Feeding Management – $how Me the Money

In order to be competitive in the pork industry, producers need to have a firm grasp of their cost of production. Since feed costs represent a large proportion of the total cost of production, they offer producers the greatest opportunity for reducing costs. You have heard it at least a hundred times before, but it is still true� feed costs represent 65-70% of the variable cost of producing a pig. Table 1 shows an example of feed usage and costs from a 300-sow farrow-to-finish operation selling 6000 market pigs.

Table 1. On-Farm Feed Usage and Costs
Stage of Production Total Feed (tonne/yr) % of Total Feed Cost of Total Feed ($) % of Total Cost










Source: Pork New & Views Budget, October 2003
Feed Consumption and Cost:

Sows/Boars – 1140 kg/sow @ $221/tonne
Weaners – 32.5 kg/pig @ $415/tonne
Growers/Finishers – 255.6 kg/pig @ $224/tonne

Even though you may not have control over the cost of feed ingredients or complete feeds, you do have control over how you use that feed. Consider your options for reducing feed costs by asking yourself the following questions.

Are you feeding your pigs according to their potential? Do you routinely monitor feed intake and growth performance? Feeding pigs to achieve optimum performance requires knowledge of their genetic potential for growth. High lean pigs, for example, require finely tuned rations with special attention to amino acid balance to perform at their best.

Are you focussing on strategies that can reap the greatest benefits? Feed efficiency is the single most important factor that determines feed cost/pig. At a cost of $210/tonne, each 0.1 unit improvement in feed efficiency will save over $1.60/pig (see Table 2). Since grower/finisher pigs represent about 74% of the total feed fed on-farm and 69% of total feed cost, any effort aimed at increasing efficiency and decreasing costs should start in the grower/finisher barn. Table 2 shows the effect of feed efficiency on feed cost/pig at various feed prices.

Table 2. Effect of Feed Efficiency on Feed Cost ($/Pig)

Feed Efficiency

Price of Feed ($/tonne)








































Are you split-sex feeding? Barrows have a lower requirement for energy and protein than gilts, especially at heavier weights. Split-sex feeding takes advantage of the opportunity to feed barrows and gilts separately to more closely match the nutrient requirements of the different sexes, which can result in savings of $1/pig (see Table 3).

Are you phase feeding? Phase feeding allows you to tailor rations to the nutrient requirements of the pig in a step-wise fashion as it grows. As a result, this strategy limits the excesses associated with feeding one ration. Producers who go from a single ration to 2 phases in the growing/finishing barn can expect to save $2/pig (see Table 3). Each step up in the number of phases in the feeding program results in half of the benefit of the previous step.

Do you check and adjust your feeders regularly? Improperly adjusted feeders can contribute to a major feed wastage problem. If you can see feed on the floor, at least 10% is being wasted and at $210/tonne, you are losing over $5/pig. Feeders should be checked daily, if possible, and if adjusted properly, you should be able to see roughly 50% of the bottom of the feeder. On the other hand, be sure not to restrict flow too much because, in the long run, reduced intakes will likely be more expensive than a moderate amount of waste. The design of the feeder also plays a critical role in feed wastage. If feed wastage is a problem in your operation, you may want to consider the pros and cons of new feeders – they may quickly pay for themselves if you can realize a 5% improvement in feed efficiency by decreasing waste.

What is your particle size? By optimizing the particle size of your rations, you can quickly see improvements in feed efficiency. The industry standard for particle size is 600-800 microns. A Kansas State University study shows a 1.2% improvement in feed efficiency, which translates into $0.50/pig, with every 100 micron reduction in grain particle size to the optimum range.

If you are mixing your own feed, how would you describe your on-farm quality control program? If your answer is “non-existent”, you may have a problem that could be costing you time and money without even knowing it. Your quality control program should include regular mill maintenance, calibration and scheduled analysis of feed ingredients and complete feeds. Errors in mixing that throw nutrient levels off by as little as 10% can lead to losses as high as $2/pig (see Table 3). In addition, if you feed antibiotics on-farm, extra attention must be paid to observing withdrawal times to avoid penalties due to drug residues.

What is the health status of your herd? Improving herd health will ensure that your pigs are using valuable nutrients to grow rather than fight off disease. The value of high health versus low or average health pigs can be in the range of $4-7/pig (see Table 3).

Are you considering using by-products to cut costs? It is important to evaluate any ration changes carefully. Cheaper feed ingredients may decrease feed cost/tonne but if they compromise pig performance to the point that overall cost of production suffers, what have you gained in the long run? Weigh the pros and cons of switching to by-products by considering not only price, but storage and handling issues, the limitations of your feeding system, whether or not you require a licence to feed them, as well as implications on pig performance, pork quality and safety.

Are you using feed additives to enhance performance? Feed additives have to pay their way by providing a higher return through improved feed efficiency or faster growth. Weigh the pros and cons of any additive prior to making changes by performing a cost:benefit analysis. If an additive will improve feed efficiency by 0.1 unit in the growing/finishing phase, at a cost of $210/tonne for feed, it is worth $1.68/pig. This means that the breakeven cost of including that feed additive is about $6.50/tonne of feed.

Table 3. Opportunities to Improve Margins in the Grower/Finisher Barn


Net Difference
($/pig place/yr)

Net Difference

Health Status
High vs. Low

High vs. Compromised



Correct Market Weight

109 vs. 105 kg



109 vs. 115 kg
Minimal Variation in Carcass

STD of 4 vs. 6 kg



Lean Growth Rate

395 vs. 310 g/day



440 vs. 395 g/day
Correct Particle Size

650 vs. 1250 microns



Low Feed Wastage

5 vs. 11%



5 vs. 8%
Optimum Mixing Accuracy

0 vs. +/- 10%



Phase Feeding

2 vs. 1 phase



3 vs. 2 phase
4 vs. 3 phase
Split-sex vs. Mixed

Source: Leantec II Growth Model, K deLange, U of Guelph and B. Marty, Agribrands Purina Canada Inc.

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