Better margins with increased feed efficiency
During periods of slim margins in swine production, this may be the best time to place a sharper focus on the “small things” you can do to improve feed efficiency, thereby improving the profitability of your operation.
Two ways to impact feed efficiency are to make changes to the actual form of the feed (particle size) and to change how feed is delivered to pigs (feeder management).
Optimal particle size
Reducing particle size increases the surface area of a given amount of feed, which is thought to improve digestibility of nutrients. Improved digestibility should translate to improved feed efficiency.
Several studies have reported that grinding corn to less than 500 microns will continue to improve feed efficiency in finishing pigs. Recent research suggests a 1-percent improvement in feed-to-gain for every 100 micron reduction in particle size down to 300 microns (Paulk et al., 2011 and DeJong et al., 2012). Goodband et al. (2002) demonstrated a similar 1-percent improvement in feed conversion for every 100-micron reduction between 1,200 and 400 microns.
Interestingly, some research has shown particle size reduction in nursery pig diets does not have as big of an impact is it has in finishing pig diets. Dr. Mike Tokach, Kansas State University, reported at the recent International Conference on Feed Efficiency in Swine that decreasing particle size any lower than between 650 and 600 microns in nursery pig diets does not yield a further positive impact on performance. In fact, Healy et al. (1994) reported an actual decrease in performance when nursery diets were ground finer than 500 microns. They concluded that the optimal particle size for nursery diets is between 500 and 700 microns.
Keep in mind that, as particle size is reduced, the susceptibility of pigs to develop gastric ulcers increases. It’s been reported that the frequency of ulcers increases when particle size drops below 500 microns. Additionally, too fine of a grind may decrease mill production efficiency, increase bridging in feeders and increase dustiness of feed.
It is absolutely critical that feeder management is not overlooked, as improper feeder adjustment can lead to wasted feed and poor feed efficiency.
Adjusting feeders too tightly can negatively impact growth rate while setting feeders too loosely impairs feed efficiency. Pan coverage of 40 to 60 percent is recommended for all sizes of pigs when using both wet/dry and dry feeders (Euken, 2012). However, the gap setting needs to be wider for small pigs as they can’t work the feeder as aggressively as an older pig can.
Finally, competition at the feeder, or feeder space restriction, may also negatively impact feed efficiency. Smaller pigs eat more slowly than older pigs, so competition at the feeder is a problem especially for younger pigs. This is especially critical in situations in which pigs are double or triple-stocked during the nursery period. Gonyou (1999) recommended that, when using a dry feeder and meal feed, pigs can be stocked at a rate of 11 to 12 pigs per feeder space; whereas, for pigs fed using a wet/dry feeder, the number of pigs per feeder can be increased to 15 pigs per feeder.
As we know, profitability in the pork industry is very volatile. Focusing on the details that improve feed efficiency can help improve margins. This becomes especially important when margins are very slim. The Vita Plus swine nutrition team looks forward to working with you to help you identify areas within your operation where feed efficiency can be improved.
About the author: Dr. Leah Gesing is a Vita Plus swine technical sales and support specialist. She earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science from Iowa State University. She continued there to earn her master’s degree in animal physiology, studying on-farm factors affecting market hog transport losses. She then went on to the University of Illinois to earn her Ph.D. in animal sciences. While in school, Gesing was involved with numerous research projects, teaching experiences, internships, and international travel. Specifically, she conducted applied research in swine genetics, health, management and reproduction with Dr. Mike Ellis. Her Ph.D. project evaluated the effect of timing of OvuGel® administration on reproductive performance in gilts synchronized for estrus.
Feed quality and nutrition