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Lessons from a legacy in the swine industry

Cast details progression in swine nutrition, genetics and animal husbandry.

Ann Hess

November 22, 2023

6 Min Read
National Pork Board

Growing up on a diverse farm in Beaver Crossing, Nebraska and the youngest of seven children, one of Wayne Cast’s first recollections as a child was coming down the stairs to find his father with a box of baby pigs warming up by the stove.

“You know we farrowed outside in huts and it was a cold Nebraska night and he brought those pigs in to warm them up,” says Cast.

Since that time, the seasoned swine nutritionist has seen much change in the swine industry. During this year’s Kansas State Swine Day, Cast detailed some of that progression during his keynote address.

“Last year we harvested 30 million more pigs in the United States … with a 2.4 million smaller breeding herd compared to 1971, and the reason I say breeding herd is because back then, when I graduated from high school, we had a lot of boars and now boars have been reduced in number greatly by AI.”

To put the industry consolidation in perspective, Cast compares figures from 1977, when there were 680,000 pork producers, to now with just 68,000 in the industry.

“I worried about consolidation in that the industry's always been open and sharing and if we got consolidated, would everything be a trade secret?” Cast says. “Well, that hasn't happened. People are willing to share; people are willing to talk about their successes and their failures. One thing I say a lot is ‘smart people learn from their mistakes but really smart people learn from other people's mistakes and also from their successes.’”

Not only has the industry changed, the pig has also transformed in that length of time. The pig is putting down more lean muscle each day and using fewer pounds of feed to make that pound of muscle so the diet needs to be more concentrated.

“In 1984, a 50-pound pig needed to have 0.84 digestible lysine. Well today, that diet probably has 1.3% digestible lysine so the pig has changed our ingredients,” Cast says.

In 2000, there were very few distillers plants around, but in 2005 that all changed, and today, there are more than 200 ethanol plants in the United States.

“Each one of those produces a little different product and so figuring out how to utilize those, that was a big change in our industry,” Cast says.

Housing pigs has also changed job responsibilities on the farm. “It used to be we gave him a warm shed with bedding and our job was pretty much done but now the pig is sort of our guest and we are responsible for making him comfortable,” Cast says.

As to the future, Cast see the biofuel industry utilizing more feed fats such as corn oil and soy oil for fuel for airplanes and for trucks.

“We’re probably going to be feeding lower energy diets in the future because we're stripping the starch out to make ethanol,” Cast says. “We're stripping the fat out to make biofuels and so we're going to have to learn how to feed lower energy diets, and whether that means that we're going to have more feeder space or more floor space, or we're going to have to do a better job of making the pig comfortable in the hot months because of the heat increment of these higher fiber feeds, there’s going to be a lot to learn there.”

It will be a learning opportunity, just as it was when utilizing distillers grains early on, he says.

“We didn't know much about feeding those and so learning how to successfully incorporate those into your diets offered producers big savings and figuring how to do that, and we're still learning how to do that,” Cast says. “Here in the last five years, we've learned about leucine to lysine ratio and how if that gets wider we probably need to increase our isoleucine and increase our valine and possibly our tryptophan, so we're still learning about that.”

He also points to the key findings since phytase came out in 1995.

“There was one producer of phytase, and it didn't save you any money. But where it was adapted, if you were landlocked and didn't have enough acres to spread your manure on, and you were worried about phosphorus levels in your soils going up, phytase was a tool,” Cast says. “But now there's eight phytase suppliers and its saving $4 or $5 a ton, if you don't have distillers.”

Cast is also pleased to see the work done with crystalline amino acids.

“We didn’t have those when I first started doing nutrition and so then the first two that came out was lysine and methionine, and if we just had those today, it saves you $4 or $5 a ton but now we also have isoleucine, tryptophan, valine and you add up all those, it's $15 to $20 a ton, so realizing how to utilize crystalline amino acids has been a big, big change in our industry,” he says.

When it comes to both positive and negative changes in the industry, Cast likes to reflect on words from his father.

“My father said that if you're willing to do something your neighbor won't do, or you're able to do something your neighbor can't do, there's usually some money in it,” Cast says. “He said pigs fall into both those categories because there's hard dirty work, so some people aren't willing to do it, and that takes a lot of management and stockmanship, and so some people aren't able to do it. My whole career, I've got to work with hardworking, talented people and what a blessing that's been.”

The swine nutritionist says he is excited to see the industry continue to progress.

“I can remember when they would put up that our goal was to produce 30 pigs per sow per year and I thought that was unrealistic because most of us were about 20 … but there are herds achieving that now and they talk about genetically we're going to make more advances, and so I think knowing how the pig is changing, and then that we're going to have to learn more about nutrition and management to be successful with this higher producing animal.”

Cast likes to share a quote from Mark Twain with producers: “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble, it's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

“I take that to mean you want to keep an open mind and be willing to change and willing to adapt,” Cast says.

“We need to learn because the pig is changing, our feedstuffs are changing, the economics are changing, we got biofuels, we got ethanol,” Cast says. “We got to adapt and be nimble.”

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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