For every pig farmer in 2021, it could pay big dividends to know the answer to this simple question: How much feed never gets eaten by your pigs and ends up as waste? Whether it’s in a manure pit below a farrowing or gestation barn or under multiple grow-finish barns, feed wastage this year could translate into massive losses, especially with corn prices above $5 per bushel and soybean meal north of $400 per ton.
The answer to the feed wastage question is most certainly that “you don’t know.” However, this is truly a case of what you don’t know may hurt you, especially in a high feed-cost environment. Regardless, it is likely to be far more than we would care to admit.
The current elevated grain prices have dramatically increased the cost of feed and have had a negative impact on every pork producer’s bottom line. So, it pays to think about the many ways in which feed might be wasted and address these through management practices to reduce costs.
Math reveals waste toll
John Patience, a swine nutritionist at Iowa State University, says producers are frequently surprised by how much feed is wasted, regardless of the feeding method used.
“The few studies that have been done suggested minimum waste is 2-5% (1 – 3) . Indirect measures suggest that wastage is often much greater than this.”
While many variables may affect any method of calculating waste, long-time experts know that many producers are wasting far more feed than thought.
If feed wastage in the U.S. ranges between 2-5% in many phases of pork production, this represents a substantial opportunity to reduce feed use and costs. However, during times of high feed costs, it becomes essential to focus on reducing feed waste. Because even a small improvement can result in substantial cost savings.
With some back-of-napkin math, we can assume a sow consumes 2,200 pounds of feed annually and 5% is wasted in the system. That is 110 pounds of feed not productively used by her. Let’s assume a cost for gestation and lactation feed averages $220 per ton. That 110 pounds of wasted feed costs $12. Since the average sow produces 27 pigs in a year, that represents an opportunity to save $0.44 per weaned pig annually—not a small amount in years when breakeven is elevated.
While these numbers may not be totally correct for your farm, they serve to illustrate the point that reducing feed waste can substantially improve the financial bottom line. During times of elevated feed costs, it pays to reduce feed waste by training animal caretakers, monitoring feed delivery systems, and repairing or replacing feeders.
Primary causes of waste
There are primarily two routes for feed to become waste in a pig barn. The first way is by passing through pigs and exiting in the form of manure, which is essentially the undigested, unabsorbed portion of the feedstuffs making up the pigs’ diet. Fortunately, the bulk of the feed placed in feed bins is consumed by the pigs and is converted into productive gain.
During process of digestion, absorption, and metabolism, much of the nutrients in swine diets are quite efficiently used by pigs. This is done to maintain their bodies, mount an immune response and grow. In the case of breeding females, feed nutrients are also used for fetal growth and milk production.
The second way feed can become waste is by passing through the flooring and entering pits beneath hog barns. This route is when feed enters manure pits and is through the slats directly from the feed delivery system or during feed delivery. Unfortunately, we know very little about how much feed enters the pit this way.
Neglected part of production
According to Mike Tokach, a swine nutritionist at Kansas State University, “There haven’t been any good studies on feeder design and wastage in many years. There is even less literature on sow feeders and feed waste in lactation and gestation.”
Tokach notes that in most cases feed use during gestation is reduced when sow farms are converted to group housing and use electronic sow-feeding stations. This fact provides a clue that feed waste in many gestation barns may be substantial.
Above all, now is the time to work with animal caretakers and contract growers to properly train them to always be on high alert for feed-related issues when feeding pigs in all phases. They need to properly monitor, adjust and repair feeding equipment, take steps to prevent or limit feed spills and always clean up feed spills promptly and properly.
7 steps to reduce feed waste
While feed waste appears to be a priority for some farms, for many it’s not on the radar. Far too often feeders are improperly adjusted, or feed piles can be found in the breed rows when sows are in heat. Although waste is never good, historically it has likely gone unaddressed due to low feed costs we enjoy in the U.S. However, that’s not a current luxury anyone has. So, with that in mind, here are some practices that should help curb feed waste.
- Properly adjust feeders and repair or replace broken ones.
- Reduce “leftover” feed in nurseries or finishing barns after a turn by calculating feed delivery with respect to when the barn will be empty.
- Carefully monitor feed augers to prevent auger over-run.
- Be attentive to sow feed intake during times of transition especially from gestation to lactation and then from lactation back to gestation.
- Clean feeders in farrowing, nursery and grow-finish before feed begins to sour.
- Clean up feed spills and overfeeding and provide to animals as a “second opportunity.”
- Replace or repair broken or rusted boots at the bottom of feed bins.
Ball, M.E.E., et al. (2015) An investigation into the effect of dietary particle size and pelleting of diets for finishing pigs, Livestock Science, 173:48-55. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2014.11.015
Patterson, D.C., (1991) A comparison of offering meal and pellets to finishing pigs from self-feed hoppers with and without built-in watering, Animal Feed Science and Technology, 34:29-36.
Swineweb.com (2019): Feeder Management in the Grower-Finisher Barn. https://www.swineweb.com/feeder-management-in-the-grower-finisher-barn/