Energy Alternatives have Pork Producers, Nutritionists Counting Calories

Focus on energy sources has pork producers and swine nutritionists counting calories.


I don’t know of a single feed ingredient that costs less than it did two years ago,” declared Joel DeRouchey in a Pork Academy presentation at World Pork Expo. Energy sources have trumped protein as the highest feed ingredient cost, with corn and the ethanol byproduct, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), showing at least a 40% cost increase in the past two years. Fat, the go-to energy source to offset a portion of corn-based diets, has climbed to about 50¢/lb. (Table 1).

“Calories are so important right now, and how we get those extra calories from a feed-cost standpoint is really important. We are back to counting calories,” DeRouchey explains.

As part of a five-man swine nutrition team at Kansas State University, DeRouchey stresses the importance of utilizing all dietary ingredients more efficiently. In his hour-long talk, he discussed the following 10 topic areas relating to feed ingredients, feed processing and management strategies that can help reduce feed costs and improve the pigs’ utilization of all dietary ingredients.


Historically, whey prices bounce around between 20 and 40¢/lb. Using an average of 35¢/lb., the return over feed costs was positive with all seven of the whey sources. However, when whey prices climb to 55-60¢/lb., as they have recently, the investment is at breakeven or at a loss depending on the growth response, he acknowledges.

In a cautionary note, DeRouchey says the first ground nursery diet with lactose should not be fed beyond 25 lb. “Once a pig reaches 25 lb. body weight, he can utilize soybean meal every bit as good as whey, fish meal, blood meal or other protein sources. Watch your feed budgets. Do not take those pigs to 30 lb. on that diet,” he emphasizes.


Using the KSU Fat Calculator (available at illustrated in Figure 1, DeRouchey compares the net return of fat at 2.5% or 5% inclusion rates with corn at $7.25/bu., soybean meal at $350/ton, fat costing $50/cwt., hogs selling for $90/cwt., carcass, and the pigs’ growth response from 50 lb. (Diet 1) to 250 lb. (Diet 5).

“You can see that when you get to the mid-finishing diet (Diet 3), it’s probably not worth having fat in the diet,” he says. “Pigs respond to fat earlier in the grow-finish phase vs. late in the finishing phase. The grower period — up to 125 lb. — gives us a much better weight-gain response than pigs weighing over 150 lb. I recommend strategically adding fat up to 125 lb., and then reevaluating it.”

Whether to add fat may also hinge on the number of days available to finish the group and turn the barn. Adding fat generally adds 4-6 lb. to finishing weights. If the barn needs to be turned quicker, added fat can help. However, an extra three days or so on a normal finishing diet will provide 4-6 lb. gains, too.

Finally, the notion that fat must be added for dust control is simply too costly. Adding 1% fat (20 lb./ton) for dust control would likely improve feed conversion slightly. Accounting for that — 20 lb. of fat/ton at 50¢/lb. — the 1% gained efficiency between 50 and 250 lb. will cost $1.20 per pig for dust control. “Is it really worth that?” he asks. 


In gestation diets, some producers use up to 50-60% DDGS, while 20-30% DDGS in lactation diets is quite common.

Still, he offers a word of caution. “Many ethanol plants are starting to spin off 2-3% of the oil from DDGS. Normal DDGS have about 10% fat, so if the plant is skimming some off, the fat analysis will drop to 7.5-8.0%. If you are using DDGS, ask your nutritionist or your feed supplier to run a fat analysis. It only costs about ten bucks,” he says.


Figure 2 represents a compilation of data from 12 experiments using 4.5 grams or 9 grams/ton of ractopamine and the corresponding weight gains recorded each week, up to four weeks.

Pigs fed 4.5 grams will gain an additional 3 lb. in Week 1, taper off to 1.8 lb. in Week 2 and about 1 lb. in Week 3. Pigs fed 9 grams ratchet down from 4 lb. in Week 1, 2.6 lb. in Week 2 and nearly 2 lb. in Week 3. “The longer you feed ractopamine, the more the growth advantage is reduced,” he says.

Strategic use of the product — feeding 4.5 grams/ton for 14 days, then stepping levels up to 9 grams for the next 14 days — has become popular with some producers. “When we look at what is economical, if we can drop feed-to-gain ratios from 3.11 to 2.6 or 2.4, it can really help in late finishing when we are going through the majority of feed. But don’t feed it too long; after 28 days, there’s no further growth advantage,” he adds.

DeRouchey also suggests feeding ractopamine longer in the summer when pigs are growing slower, then pulling back during the winter months when pigs generally grow faster. “Feeding Paylean for the same number of days year ‘round is not optimal,” he adds.


When feed was withdrawn at 36 hours pre-slaughter, pigs were about 15 lb. lighter, on average. Feed withdrawal at 7 hours and 24 hours pre-slaughter meant pigs averaged about 4 lb. and 10 lb. lighter, respectively.

“The gut holds an immense amount of feed. If we can minimize that extra gut fill — which they don’t digest or utilize anyway — it can save quite a bit of feed cost,” DeRouchey explains. Also, the pigs are still growing from the feed they consume, thus giving up body weight gain if removed from feed too soon.

It is important to understand that feed withdrawal can generally only be managed in the final dump of the barn. Sorting and holding the faster-growing pigs would likely cause fighting and weight loss, ultimately defeating the purpose.

Feed withdrawal logically improves yield and, therefore, yield premiums. Generally, with 48-hour withdrawal, carcasses averaged 6 lb. lighter (Figure 3); at 36-hour withdrawal, carcasses were 2 and 5 lb. lighter; but virtually no carcass weight loss was seen with 24-hour feed withdrawal. “Saving feed costs without affecting carcass weight is the goal,” he reminds.


Most mills target 600-700-micron fineness of grind when they should be shooting for 350-400 microns, he says. The often-cited pitfalls of the finer grind are poor feed flow (bridging) and the potential for more ulcers.

One way to overcome the feed-flow issue is to make the end product into a pellet, but many toll mills simply can’t make them, he admits. Since corn represents a smaller portion of the diet when byproducts are included, those negative effects are less evident.

“The bottom line is, I don’t know of anything you can do to get more calories out of the same bite of feed than how the feed is processed,” he notes.

  1. Dried whey (lactose). Focusing on the first meal diet a pig eats after the starter pellets, DeRouchey reviewed a study that compared how pigs responded to seven different sources of whey used in a first-phase nursery diet. In a two-week time span (Day 5 to 19 after weaning), pigs grew from about 15 lb. to 25 lb., with daily gain averaging 0.65 to 0.77 lb./day. “All pigs do better immediately after weaning when we give them lactose (whey), because it’s more like their mother’s milk,” he notes.
  2. Adding fat. Heading into the hot summer months, the universal mindset is to add fat when hog prices are highest and growth suffers the most. “Certainly, adding fat helps growth rate, but is it economical?” he asks.
  3. Distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS). “At today’s corn prices, you can realize up to $10/pig savings with 40% DDGS in the finishing diet,” DeRounchey notes.
  4. Optimizing ractopamine use. “In these times of high feed costs, I know of no other feed additive that offers the opportunity for feed efficiency and growth that Paylean (ractopamine from Elanco) does,” DeRouchey states.
  5. Feed withdrawal before slaughter. The KSU team conducted two experiments on a commercial farm in southwestern Minnesota, where the impact of feed withdrawal on carcass yield and carcass weight were studied. Feed was taken away at 7, 24 and 36 hours before slaughter in both tests, and at 48 hours in one. Time lapses included time in transit and at the plant.
  6. Feed processing/management. “For every 100 microns finer the grind of a corn-soybean meal diet, feed/gain improves 1.2%. That’s 7 lb. less feed needed for 200 lb. of gain (50 to 250 lb., grow-finish). With today’s feed prices ($7 corn), that represents nearly $1/pig in feed savings,” DeRouchey points out.
  7. Mind your feed budgets. “If you want to blow your feed costs all to heck, get off on your feed budget,” DeRouchey declares. The purpose for feed budgets is to avoid feeding high-priced feeds too long. “With feed costs so high, if you overfeed a diet and pigs don’t need those extra nutrients, it is detrimental to your costs.”
  8. Focus on feeders. There’s good reason a lot of emphasis has been placed on feeders the last five years. “Calculate the dollars of feed that goes through a single feeder over the course of a year,” he suggests. “Get rid of those old, worn-out feeders. You can pay for a good-quality feeder with about one turn of pigs.”
  9. Split-sex feeding. If you have large enough farrowing groups to fill a barn with barrows and another with gilts, split-sex feeding may be worth considering. The ability to budget feed more closely could save about 40¢/pig. But, if you can’t fill barns in a week, forget it, because it’s a nightmare to budget feed — which likely means you will overfeed high-priced diets — and you will cancel out that 40¢/pig pretty quickly, DeRouchey says.
  10. Target optimal market weights. Start by minimizing the age spread in a barn as much as possible. Know the weight your packer prefers. “Be aggressive when weights bypass the optimum when topping-off a barn,” he suggests. “But, when weights are below optimum, be less aggressive. The last thing you want to do is sell pigs too light.”  
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