Leaner diets can save money, preserve growth

By Treena Hein

Eduardo Beltranena presented on feed research, during a breakout session at the 2022 Banff Pork Seminar.

Feed cost is very high now for many Canadian hog producers, in large part due to the 2021 drought across the prairie provinces. This was explained by Eduardo Beltranena of the University of Alberta during the ‘Feeding’ breakout session at the 2022 Banff Pork Seminar. Beltranena conducts research on reducing feed costs for hogs with colleagues Malachy Young and José Landero at Gowans Feed Consulting and Miranda Smit, formerly with Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development.

“Feed is 65 to 75 per cent of total production cost and hogs consume 85 per cent of it,” said Beltranena. “Among the most important things you can do are reduce feed energy, include soy or canola expellers instead of liquid oil, immuno-castration, reducing vitamins and trace mineral supplementation, and feed alternative ingredients such as hybrid rye, fava bean and canola coproducts. Savings from implementing these strategies can add up to $22 per pig.”

There are other strategies that reduce feed cost, but they have less of an impact, he suggested. They include feeding phytase instead of mono- or di-calcium phosphate, shipping gilts heavier than barrows, reducing feed particle size, making feeder adjustments to reduce feed wastage and timely removal of suboptimal pigs not to overcrowd hogs prior to first pull, as they near market weight. Together, these actions can typically provide additional savings of $8 per pig.

Increasing feed intake by reducing feed energy

By subtracting feed cost from income per hog, Beltranena’s team found that feed cost per hog is less when feeding a diet representing 2.1 versus 2.4 million calories per kilogram.

With colleagues, Beltranena has conducted several commercial trials reducing the energy density of western Canadian pig diets – diets that are cheaper. They found that by reducing net energy level from 2.4 to 2.1 million calories per kilogram, pigs consumed more feed to maintain caloric intake but weight gain was similar. So, while feed efficiency was lower as a result of feeding reduced net energy diets, overall profit was $10 higher per hog eating cheaper diets.

In terms of feed components, starch propels hogs to grow, and in western Canadian diets, starch comes mostly from cereals. Beltranena explained that with the very high prices right now for barley, wheat and oats, growers have turned to corn from eastern Canada.

“Luckily, there was a bumper corn crop in Quebec and Ontario,” he said. “This has really saved the western Canadian pig industry.”

However, he urged pig producers to consider feeding alternative, locally grown feedstuffs and industrial co-products. New European rye hybrids yield about 30 per cent more than conventional rye and 20 to 40 per cent higher than Western spring wheat. Fusarium and ergot disease are lower in these fall-planted hybrids, because they produce vast amounts of pollen and flower earlier. They are, therefore, not challenged by lack of summer rainfall, making it more difficult for fungal spores to enter the stigma and affect grain formation when crops are stressed.

Beltranena and his colleagues have done a trial with hog diets, replacing one-third, two-thirds or all the wheat with hybrid rye grain. There was no effect on feed cost per hog or feed cost per kilogram gain, nor was there a reduction in dressing percentage, because rye has fermentable soluble fibre instead of woody-type, insoluble hull fibre.

“Rye can completely replace wheat in hog diets, but we recommend including an enzyme mix if rye replaces more than 50 per cent of wheat in diets,” he said. “In our trials, we added an enzyme cocktail to all diets and canola oil to increase the energy level of the rye diets. That increased diet cost, but even so, profit per hog was higher at the high rye inclusion level with the enzyme cocktail.”

Regarding sources of feed protein, Beltranena noted that canola and soybean meal costs are high, but pulses – particularly yellow peas and fava bean – remain important alternative protein sources for western Canadian hog producers. Pulses contribute about twice as much starch as protein, so they price into diets effectively. He added that dried distillers’ grains with solubles (DDGS) from both wheat and corn also provide more available phosphorus than intact grain. Also, camelina and hemp cake may represent economical protein and fat sources in the future.

Beltranena also indicated that, while the cost of the immuno-castration vaccine Improvest is equal – providing a feed saving of around 15 kilograms per male pig – there are additional benefits to producers. These are four to eight per cent faster gain to market weight, no cryptochirids, greater pig livability, lower dressing percentage because of the testes remaining intact, but greater carcass weight. Shoulder, loin and ham weight increase, reducing backfat and belly fat. He pointed out that the treatment of gilts with Improvest is new, allowing them to grow more like barrows after the second injection, eating more but getting to market weight sooner.

Other actions to reduce costs

Beltranena was recognized during the second plenary session of the Banff Pork Seminar as this year’s recipient of the George R. Foxcroft Lectureship in Swine Production. Foxcroft passed away in December 2021. During his own presentation, Beltranena honoured Foxcroft, his long-time mentor and friend.

Among other more minor feed cost reduction strategies, Beltranena indicated producers could regularly check if feeders need adjustment.

“Feed wastage of two per cent equals 15 tonnes of feed falling through slats into slurry pits for 1,000-head barns per year,” he said. “Reducing particle size by 100 microns improves feed conversion by more than one per cent. That’s $1 feed saving per hog. Try a screen hole that’s down a size to what you’re currently using. Watch for feed bridging as it may occur in bins and feeders, or flex augers may have difficulty handling slightly more powdery mash.”