4 feed management tips to reduce cost on each pig farm

Feed cost savings can and should be sought even after the feed is designed, mixed and transported at the farm.

Piglets Suckling
budabar | Bigstock.com

Basic guidelines can be applied to farms for piglets, finishing pigs, gestating sows and lactating sows

With such high feed prices, we need to look at feeding and nutrition from all aspects, and one of them is feed management at the farm level. Based on my experiences during the numerous feed cost spikes around the world in the past 30 years, I can offer four basic guidelines that can be applied to each pig farm.


When feed prices increase, the first reaction worldwide is to look for a cheaper piglet feed, be it a creep diet or a post-weaning formula. This is invariably an unsavory advice to follow. A cheaper feed, even of acceptable quality, invariably contains less of the specialty ingredients that are needed so much by neonatal pigs.

My advice during hard times has always been to keep the same feed a farm has always been using and instead to reduce feed allowance per piglet. This is a better way and, in most cases, avoids the sudden increase in morbidity, mortality and overall drop in growth performance associated with a less complex feed.

Below is a real-case scenario, from some time ago when pig prices had plummeted.

A customer, raising about 30,000 pigs per year was feeding 1.5 kg of Phase 1 feed to weaned pigs (23 days of age, 6.5 kg body weight). When pig prices had dropped to the level money was lost for each pig sold, we started reducing the quantity of the above feed by 0.25 kg increments for each successive batch of weaned pigs – not a scientific trial, for sure, but good enough for our commercial situation.

In the fourth successive batch, where weaned pigs were assigned to receive 0.5 kg feed per head, we started observing a significant drop in overall health and well-being in addition to a marked drop in growth performance. This was deemed unacceptable. Thus, we established with confidence that 0.75 kg feed per head was the accepted minimum for this farm. No doubt, growth performance dropped by about 50% (a nice coincidence given that feed allowance was reduced by 50% as well), but pigs still grew without having runts, sick, or dead pigs.

The feed in question cost about EUR800 per metric ton, whereas the one used to top it up (the next diet) was about EUR500 per metric ton. With the above numbers, we estimated we saved about EUR7,000 per year. That figure would be more than double with today’s feed prices, so if we say we saved EUR15,000 this is EUR0.5 per piglet, and this was a small farm with 1,200 sows.

Finishing pigs

This is an old piece of advice, but reducing feed wastage pays off the most at this stage as finishing pigs consume about two-thirds of all feed used in a pig farm. Instead of feed ending up joining the manure to be disposed of even at a cost, it should actually be consumed by pigs.

Now is the time to make sure feed is not overflowing from feeders. Of course, it is not an easy or pleasant task, but when feed wastage can be as high as 25%, it makes sense to stop wasting as much feed as possible before one considers using a cheaper feed or buying new feeders. Seen from another angle, reducing feed wastage improves efficiency of feed utilization, which is always a desirable effect as it means less cost per kilogram of pig meat produced.

I don’t have a customer case for this situation because it is so difficult to measure feed wastage on a real farm, but let’s work through some calculations.

Let’s assume feed wastage in a finishing barn is a typical 10%. Let’s also assume these finishing pigs “consume” 90 kg feed in the final phase before marketing, gaining 30 kg body weight with a 3:1 feed:gain ratio. This is not far from reality despite the use of round numbers to make this example easier to present. Out of the 90 kg feed disappearing or assumed as “feed intake” in calculations, only 81 kg are actually consumed by pigs and 9 kg (10% of 90) are wasted down the slats.

Now, let’s assume that, with proper and more frequent adjustment of feeders, we manage to drop feed wastage down to 5%; this is not an impossible target. Apparent feed intake then becomes 85 kg; still 81 kg for the pigs but now only 4 kg for the pits. As pigs will still gain 30 kg body weight, feed:gain ratio is now 2.83 or roughly 5% less than before.

Notice how the percentage reduction in feed wastage translates to a similar percentage improvement in the feed:gain ratio.

Gestating sows

Lamentably, many gestating sows receive more feed than they actually need. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is the erroneous notion that a slightly fatty sow will produce heavier piglets at birth. This is far from truth; sows can and should remain on the lean side, but not emaciated, without any loss in performance. A lean sow will give birth easier, and she will have a better appetite during lactation leading to heavier piglets at weaning, without milking off her back that invariably increases days to her next estrus.

Under most commercial conditions, and assuming a typical feed nutrient composition, gestating sows should receive no more than 2.5 kg feed per day. This might seem reasonable to most, but there is a school of thought in certain parts of the world where gestating sows receive regularly up to 4 kg feed per day throughout gestation. In a 1 to 5 body score scale, sows should be on average on the 3.5 level, and at times where money is lost on the farm, they could be reduced temporarily a bit down to a body score of 3, but not beyond this to ensure productivity, health and longevity.

Lactating sows

Walking through a typical farrowing barn several hours after feeding time, one can always find several, if not many, feeders still full or half-full with feed, often fouled with water and starting to ferment. Quite often, when the next feeding time comes, the worker is forced to clean the feeder before adding new feed or the sow will refuse to eat the stale or fouled feed. And, always, the old feed is damped down the pits.

So, let’s look at the numbers, again. In a barn housing 100 sows, let’s assume there are five such feeders that need cleaning at each feeding, giving 10 feeders per day. If each feeder contains at minimum 1 kg feed (most likely more), the wastage is 10 kg per day, or three to four metric tons of feed per year. As lactation feed is an expensive feed, there is no good reason for such obvious waste of money.

So, what is to be done? On small(er) farms, feed allowance should be tied to sow condition, health, and size of litter. In other words, the worker and manager should spend a bit of extra time to assess the needs of each individual sow and try to feed her according to her appetite.

On large(r) farms, where this is more difficult, it would be best to increase the number of feedings per day (say, from two to three), reducing the amount of feed delivered per feeding. This will eliminate the problem for sows of having to ingest a large amount of feed in a short period of time, especially troubling during the first couple of weeks post-weaning when appetite and physical stomach capacity are still increasing to cope with the increased metabolic demand for nutrients. The same is true for the summer months.

Proper feed management is always important, but when feed cost becomes prohibitively expensive, it should be a priority. (Budimir Jevtic | Shutterstock.com)Proper feed management is always important, but when feed cost becomes prohibitively expensive, it should be a priority. (Budimir Jevtic | Shutterstock.com)

Feed cost savings can and should be sought even after the feed is designed, mixed and transported at the farm. Proper feed management is always important, but when feed cost becomes prohibitively expensive, it should be a priority as feed cost can easily exceed even the traditional rule of thumb of two-thirds of total production cost.

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