Marketing hogs in a timely fashion has been a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in fewer concerns with feed efficiency.
“Fortunately right now, feed costs are really low with corn at $3 or below,” says Colin Johnson, Iowa State University Extension swine specialist. “Right now we are looking more at maintaining weight while packing capacity is limited, so pig flow and market weights are the main focus. It’s really been a very unique time.”
Once production returns to some semblance of normal, producers will be taking a closer look at feed efficiency.
Johnson says a balanced ration based on pig weights is crucial to gain. Another critical aspect is feeder management.
“You want to make sure the feed is accessible and the lip height is correct in order to minimize wastage,” he says.
Feed efficiency is usually similar between dry feeders and wet-dry feeders, although Johnson says intake is usually greater with a wet-dry feeder.
There is an art to managing feeders, says Dave Stender, Iowa State University Extension swine specialist. He says feeders that are too open will likely end up partially filled with stale feed.
“Pigs do not like stale feed,” Stender says. “If your trough is too small, they aren’t going to be getting enough feed. You want it somewhere in between if possible.”
He says the ration also needs to include proper amino acid levels, which should also help boost feed efficiency
Because of the shutdown or slowdown of many ethanol plants, distillers grains are less available for rations. Stender says feed efficiency is actually better when using corn since it is more energy dense.
“They are taking some of the energy out of corn at the plant, so you will have higher levels when feeding corn,” he says.
Pig health is also a factor. Johnson says sick pigs grow more slowly.
Genetics can play a role in feed efficiency, he says. Certain breeds are genetically more likely to produce more lean muscle per pound of feed.
Feed particle size will also help.
“The finer the grind, the better feed efficiency you are going to have,” Johnson says, adding 500 microns would be a target for particle size.
Pelleted feed is also more efficient than meal, he says, although it does cost more to make.
“When feed costs are so low, you are more willing to see slightly reduced efficiency than paying more for the pelleting,” Johnson says.
He says marketing weights also contribute to feed efficiency. Johnson says a 280-pound pig has a feed efficiency number of 2.6 to 2.7 pounds of feed per pound of gain. A market pig weighing 300 pounds has a number closer to 4.3, he says.
Johnson says environment also factors into efficiency. Colder buildings will require pigs to burn more calories to stay warm, while a hot building will decrease intake.