For years, many producers utilized ractopamine to add lean gain in the last 15 – 35 days before market. The tool improved feed efficiency and helped the pigs grow at a rate similar to their fastest growth stage – around 150 lbs.
Like any tool, its usefulness all came down to economics. In good markets, it could provide a $2 – 3 return, while in some years, with its costs figured in, it was breakeven. But many producers appreciated having the tool available to add to their bottom line under the right conditions.
Ractopamine was an excellent tool for bringing up fall behinds. In many cases, it was used after the first cut to encourage the slow growers and, in some cases, could help producers get rid of that last cut. Barn timing isn’t about when the first pigs go; it’s about when the last pigs leave. Getting all the pigs out a week faster – and not having to feed that last group in a mostly empty barn – can have a significant impact on overall productivity.
Because it brought a finish pig closer to goal weight faster just before market, ractopamine was an easy way to compensate for any pigs that fell behind from the start.
However, in recent years, some large export markets have cracked down on the use of ractopamine, causing packing plants to adjust their attitude around pigs produced using the product. In the past three years, most have refused any carcass that includes trace amounts. These requirements spread throughout the supply chain, impacting feed mills, producers and even suppliers of beef tallow.
Today, in the interest of having as many places as possible to sell pork, the US market is basically ractopamine-free, leaving producers looking for new ways to meet their finishing goals.
Keep fall behinds from holding you back – even without ractopamine.
While there isn’t an exact replacement for ractopamine, we can fill the gaps by adjusting some production practices and management strategies. Here are four considerations.
1. Start in the nursery.
Ractopamine showed its most significant benefits in the bottom 20% of pigs. While there will always be a bottom 20%, we can lessen the gap between the top and bottom performers by addressing their gut health early.
Keeping pigs from falling behind starts on day one in the nursery – getting them on feed and keeping them on the correct feed until they reach market. Having a healthy gut keeps pigs healthy, on feed and at their highest level of nutrient absorption. Ralco’s Essential-Lyte™ is an excellent tool for this.
A water additive designed to help weaned pigs transition faster, its natural ingredients work together to help get pigs going in the first 24 hours in the nursery – rehydrating, restoring vital nutrients, promoting immunity and lowering gut pH to reduce pathogens and manage disease.
2. Choose the proper diet.
While it’s tempting to go for consistency, ease and low cost across all your diets, choosing the right level of complexity for your pigs’ diet throughout their growth stages is critical. Just like a baby needs milk to meet their nutritional needs, pigs also need a diet developed for their size and growth. Small pigs fed a cheap simple diet will fall behind because they aren’t ready for that simple diet yet. They need complexity to build their gut health and optimize their growth, intake and efficiency.
Ralco’s Tactical Start® is a nursery nutrition program designed to help consistently deliver more full-market-value pigs and increase performance in the finishing barn. Tactical Start focuses on driving early intake, providing ultra-complex, easily digestible diets and matching digestive capacity to help bring more uniform, full-value pigs to market.
3. Keep gut health – and the immune system – running on high.
Healthier pigs perform better. If their body is working to fight off a heavy pathogen load, it isn’t putting all its energy towards gain. Ralco’s ProsperEO™ uses essential oils and a prebiotic to help drive down pathogens and disease and boost the overall immune system. Research shows pigs on ProsperEO throughout the grow-finish period were 6.9 lbs. heavier at market.
4. Consider energy over fat to encourage lean gain.
With fat almost six times the cost of corn, it’s a great time to focus on a diet specially designed to minimize waste while providing energy and gain. The EnMAX® diet is formulated to lead to less energy lost through digestion while encouraging pigs to maximize efficiency. Some fat may still be necessary, but minimizing its use can cut costs and improve gain which can be great for your bottom line. EnMAX diets on average use roughly 28% less soybean meal and fat when compared to regular diet formulations.
With ractopamine gone, we must find new ways to bring up fall behinds.
Check out our loss and inefficiency calculator to see how fall behinds and mortality could be impacting your bottom line.