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Fine-Tuning Your Operation When Times Are Tight

24 October 2012

Prairie Swine Centre in Canada offers some tips on nutrition and management to help producers improve their bottom line in these difficult economic times.

Any time is a good time to review management practices within your operation. In the current environment of high feed prices and tight margins, producers are more aggressively seeking ways to reduce costs and increase revenue.

Prairie Swine Centre's research programme focuses on ways to enhance the economic position of pork producers throughout Canada. The following are some, easy-to-adopt ideas that can be incorporated into your operation immediately. Many of these ideas may be already implemented in your operation – in that case, it serves as a reminder as to the importance of each aspect.

Removal of Vitamins and Trace Minerals from Finishing Diets

Removal of vitamins and trace minerals from the finishing diet for periods of approximately three or five weeks prior to slaughter was found to have no negative impact on animal performance and carcass merit.

The economic benefit of such a change will vary among farms, depending on the current cost of supplementation; it is estimated that a typical savings of about C$1.00 to $1.50 per pig sold may be realised.

Adding Peas to the Diets at 60 Per Cent Inclusion

Work at Prairie Swine Centre has shown a high inclusion (60 per cent) of peas does not necessarily result in reduced feed intake.

At current market conditions, every $10 per tonne reduction in finishing diets will save approximately $1.20 per market hog. A bi-weekly publication (Feed Pea Benchmark) produced by Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba Pulse Growers provides a quick summary on what the price of peas needs to be in order to price into diets.

Monitor Temperature

Elevated barn temperatures reduce feed intake and thus growth rate. For every 1°C above the pig's thermoneutral zone, feed intake drops by one to two per cent and growth rate drops by about three per cent. Thus, for every 1°C above the pigs thermoneutral zone, net income is reduced by $0.50 to $0.75 per pig.

Reduced nocturnal temperature. Reducing the set-point temperature by 6°C during hot weather, the barn becomes cooler at night, with somewhat shorter duration of high temperatures. The net result was an increase in growth rate of two to five per cent, equal to two to five fewer days to market; this is valued at $0.50 to $1.00 per pig sold.

The past three winters, PSC has been challenging our lower set-point temperatures in all rooms by reducing set-points 1°C to 2°C lower than published values. The result is lower utility costs and no change in productivity - seven per cent or more reduction in utility costs).

Properly Adjusted Water Nipples and Flow Rates

By adjusting nipple drinker height, water wastage can be reduced by up to 20 per cent for grower/finisher pigs. High flow rate can result in more water spillage from nipple drinkers.

Nipple drinkers should be adjusted to 5cm higher than the smallest pig in the pen. Having the drinker adjusted to a lower setting will result in additional 10 per cent water wastage in growers and 20 per cent in finishers.

Water wastage increased by seven per cent with a higher water flow rate of 1,000ml per minute compared to 500ml per minute.

Properly Adjusted Feeders

A five per cent feed wastage at the present time costs the pork producer more than $2 per pig sold. It may be impossible to eliminate feed wastage but research at Prairie Swine Centre has shown that with most commercial feeders, wastage of three per cent or less is not an unreasonable expectation.

Research has shown that having a feeder adjusted to achieve 40 per cent pan coverage will have the optimal combination of reducing feed wastage and maximizing pig performance.

Energy Levels in Finishing Diets

Under typical market conditions, high energy diets do not necessarily result in the highest return over feed cost. Feed efficiency is improved with higher energy diets, however additional diet costs far exceed the beneficial impact of feed efficiency. Cost savings range from $3.00 to $5.00 per hog under current market conditions.

Review Ideal Shipping Core

This requires monitoring feed intake and growth as pigs approach market weight and comparing this to the changes in yield and index as market weights increase. In this way, determine the cost of adding an extra kilogram to the market weight, and compare that cost to the added income.

With a finishing diet costing $0.25 per kilogram, and a feed conversion at of 4.0:1, it costs $1.00 to add 1kg to the live weight. Assuming a dressing percentage of 80 per cent and an index of 109, the price of pigs must be at least $1.15 per kg to break even on added market weight.

Power Washing and Sprinkling

Recent work at Prairie Swine Centre indicates soaking prior to pressure-washing a fully-slatted production room may not be necessary. Additional labour costs associated without sprinkling are offset by lower water (including well pumping) costs.

Conventional pressure washer nozzles have been shown to be the most efficient in terms of labour requirements and total water used. They have been shown to save up to $50 per hog marketed when compared to other nozzle types.

Check Feed Particle Size

Once the diet has been formulated, there are still opportunities to reduce costs by observing particle size stays within the 650- to 700-micron range to ensure optimum digestibility. Frequently, due to screen wear, improper screen size or hammer wear, the feeds milled on farm are significantly over the 700-micron threshold.

For every 100 microns under 700, the feed conversion improves 1.2 per cent. With feed costs today of $110 per finished hog, moving from say a 3.0 F/G to a 2.96 F/G - the effect of 1.2 per cent improvement, or 100-micron reduction in feed particle size - is worth $1.30 per pig marketed.

While this is not an exhaustive list, it is meant to take a quick look at your operation and potentially find a couple of hidden dollars, or perhaps re-enforce why we do certain things.

If you are looking for more information there is a wide array of resources available at

October 2012

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