Focus on things you can control.

The hog market is cyclical in nature, and during price downturns there’s a renewed urgency to fine-tune management. Anytime red ink begins to flow onto hog-farm ledgers it’s wise to sharpen management and attend to the details that keep market hogs growing efficiently.


One of the measures to monitor is feed efficiency (FE), which is a combination of feed disappearance and average daily gain (ADG). On its own FE has limitations, but it does involve a list of management factors to keep an eye on the bigger picture.


“Feed efficiency is more about management and how everything fits together,” says Dave Stender, swine field specialist with Iowa State University Extension. “There are so many things that influence it. You can spend a lot of money to improve FE, but the trick is not to spend more money than you’ll get back. You always have to evaluate tradeoffs.”

Back to Basics

Variables influencing FE sort into one of three categories: the barn environment, the pig and the feed, but they are all intertwined. The key in profit-challenging times is to focus on management basics that are no-or low-cost options.


Pig comfort is a good place to start. “Fall is particularly tough because you get cool nights and warmer days,” says Joel DeRouchey, Kansas State University swine nutritionist. “You don’t want pigs moving energy away from growth for maintenance.”


It’s important to understand the pigs’ effective environmental temperature, not just the air temperature. Effective temperature accounts for such things as relative humidity, air movement, flooring type, building insulation and even pig density. The accompanying table shows the increased feed intake for each degree below the pig’s lower critical
temperature (LCT).


For example, a 220-pound finishing pig housed 10°F cooler than its LCT could be expected to eat 0.43 pounds more feed per day than a pig housed at the correct temperature. Extrapolate that out to a 2,400-head barn and you’d need more than 1,000 pounds of additional feed a day or 3.5 tons per week.


Maintaining the right temperature depends on the right ventilation settings and management. Stender advises attending a ventilation workshop to learn how or to refresh your ability to manage the system. “Heading into fall and winter, it’s important to review the heating and ventilation systems so that everything is in working order,” he says.


Of course, ventilation also influences air quality which, if set incorrectly, can cause pig health and stress problems and, in turn, hurt daily gain, FE and feed costs. If mortality rises, poorer FE follows. Research has shown that each 1 percent increase in mortality will worsen FE by about 1.5 percent.


When it comes to pinpointing mortality’s impact on FE for a group of pigs or to further evaluate genetics, you need to factor the pig’s weight before it died into the equation. “Those pounds were converted,” Stender notes. “Also, if a pig died at 100 pounds, that FE is different from a pig weighing 300 pounds. If you’re making a genetic decision it matters.”


Today’s genetics are leaner, faster growing and later maturing, which are all positive attributes for FE and lessen the impact of marketing pigs at heavier weights. Most commercial lines can maintain 3.5 to 3.7 FE or better as pigs reach the upper 200 pounds, Stender points out.


More important is to figure the cost of that extra gain and consider the future market trend. For example, if feed costs you 35 cents for a pound of gain and the market price is 42 cents, that’s a modest margin. While ideal market weights are packer-dependent, “if you’re not covering the variable cost, you better be selling at the bottom end of the packer grid,” Stender says. Concentrate more on sorting hogs accurately — getting the right weight pigs on the right truck — and minimize the group’s weight deviation and sort loss.


Also, market trends don’t get enough consideration, he adds. If the hog price is likely to drop $2 in the coming weeks, you’re better off selling a 260-pound pig now than a 270-pound pig next week.

Feed and Feeders

Naturally feed often takes center stage when producers target FE because it’s such a key contributor. Feed density and composition not only impact FE but also the cost; and dietary energy has the largest impact on both.


“The first thing we look at is dietary energy and its value,” DeRouchey says. “The reality is FE gets worse when producers feed lower-energy diets.”


Continuing to focus on low-cost fixes to keeping pigs growing efficiently, he points to feed-particle size. Research shows that for every 100-micron reduction in particle size FE improves by approximately 1 percent. That’s because a smaller particle size improves nutrient absorption. The key is to grind feed as finely as possible without causing
flowability problems or stomach ulcers, to which some genetics are more susceptible. For meal diets, the optimal grind is usually 550 to 450 microns.


Pelleting feed allows for a finer grind (300 to 250 microns), less waste and reliable flowability, but the added cost can cancel out the feedhandling and FE benefits. “Pelleting is less enticing when hog prices are low and corn prices are low as well,” DeRouchey says. Pellet quality and percentage of fines also come into play in terms of its overall impact on the pig.


Distillers’ dried grains with solubles (DDGS) offers an alternative ingredient opportunity with fall corn harvest and reduced export sales lowering prices. “DDGS price has declined substantially in the last few months,” DeRouchey notes. “More DDGS will be used this fall, but it needs to be evaluated correctly. Look for a supplier who is focused
on hog feed.”


Hog-feeding rates tend to range between 10 percent and 30 percent, but the important point is that not all DDGS sources are created equal. Processing plants have continuously pulled more oil out of the corn byproduct, so instead of 10 percent oil, 4 percent to 6 percent is more common but 6 percent to 8 percent should be the target for use in hog diets.


As for amino acids, specifically standardized ileal digestible lysine, there’s too much risk to overall pig performance once a diet is set to match the genetics and growth curve, DeRouchey says. Depending on your region, other alternative feedstuffs could hold potential, such as bakery, wheat mids or corn germ. “It is worth looking at ingredients if a producer can source something that offers a savings but doesn’t hurt growth,” he adds.


Ractopamine is still a value prospect even when hog prices are low, if your packer allows its use. “Economics may shorten the duration of feeding,” DeRouchey says. “But there’s never been a feed additive, in my opinion, that’s as predictable in improving growth and feed efficiency.”


Feeder adjustment is nearly a no-cost management tool that can improve FE and feed costs, as the right setting minimizes waste while meeting the pigs’ needs. Research has settled on 40 percent to 50 percent feed coverage in the pan for dry feeders to accommodate ADG and FE. The setting is similar for wet/dry feeders, although research indicates pan coverage can be tightened a bit further in late-finishing due to pigs’ eating patterns.


Finally, there’s water. Bottom line, pigs that don’t drink, don’t eat. “You’ve got to have the right flow rate, right number of waterers and water quality,” Stender says. “Water is the No. 1 nutrient for a pig’s innate immunity. If pigs get sick, then FE will be bad too. There’s a double importance to water, and it’s too often forgotten.”


While it’s true that the best FE does not necessarily translate to profitability, it can serve as a useful benchmark of group close-outs, as well as a monitor of overall herd performance.


Tools to Use

Kansas State University (KSU) swine nutritionists have developed a broad set of tools to help producers calculate hog feed and marketing options. From pricing ingredients to dietary inclusion rates to pig spaces and more, these free tools are accessible at under “calculators.” This site also has guidance on feeder adjustments, particle size and hog marketing.


Specific to feed efficiency (FE) there is an FE Evaluation Tool and an FE Adjustment Calculator. More FE fact sheets can be found at Among those is an FE Decision Tree outlining all the factors that influence FE regardless of hog prices and profitability.


“These tools outline the management practices that impact FE every day,” says Joel DeRouchey, KSU swine
nutritionist. “They can be used as a reminder but also a monitor.”


The FE Adjustment Calculator, in particular, is an exercise that producers should run through periodically. “Particularly if they contract out finishing,” DeRouchey says. “Identify the areas that influence FE and performance that barn owners and people who do the daily chores impact.” Things like feeder adjustment, water availability and environmental conditions are important.


“It can be easy to overlook certain areas,” he adds. “It’s important to control the things you can so that FE doesn’t get worse than you projected.”


Frank’s Note

When the hog market faces challenges, the need to monitor feed waste often rises to the top of the “to-do list.” On a daily basis feed waste can be subtle and easily overlooked, but it doesn’t take long for it to add up and have a real impact on performance and margins.


One area where feed waste occurs is feeders with inadequate feed-pan depth and feeding area. When a pig raises its head during normal feeding any extra feed in its mouth should drop into the pan, not on the floor. As market hogs get bigger, feeder-size restrictions increase waste but also impact growth and feed efficiency.


Another factor to monitor is the feed supply in the feeder pan. In most cases, 40 percent to 50 percent pan coverage is appropriate to keep pigs growing yet minimize waste. Feeder adjustments that don’t allow for infinite control, are worn out, broken or hard to manage cost real dollars. Because diets change based on the pig growth phase, producers need an adjustment that can easily be set to match feed flow with eating behavior.


To address the producers’ and pigs’ changing needs, the Farmweld R adjust™ System was designed for management ease to allow infinite-feed-flow control and reduce waste. Many producers using R adjust report that by simply sliding the handle the setting is consistent from feeder to feeder, and the setting remains securely in place. This is especially helpful when multiple people do chores to ensure feed settings are uniform. More customer comments can be viewed on our website on the “Success Stories” page.


Now is the time to review your equipment and refresh your management. If you have questions on products or need assistance, don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-EAT-PORK (328-7675) or use the contact form or LiveChat on our website.


Frank Brummer, President, Farmweld, Inc.


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