Selection for Feed Intake and Feed Conversion

CANADA - All in the pork business agree that the impact of high feed prices has been significant on the bottom line. Genetic improvement for feed conversion can play an important role in addressing the impact of high feed costs, writes Bob Kemp, PhD PAg, Vice President of Genetic Programs and R&D, Genesus Inc.
calendar icon 11 March 2013
clock icon 4 minute read

When most people discuss feed conversion we tend to focus on grow-finish feed conversion and rightfully so since it is a significant component of the cost of producing a market weight pig. Additionally the cost of raising a replacement gilt to breeding is also significantly impacted by grow-finish feed conversion. However, as discussed in my last article we must not forget the importance of sow feed intake as well both during lactation and gestation. Together all of these components impact feed costs for pork producers.

In this article I want to focus on grow-finish feed intake and efficiency of the market pig. We always tend to focus on feed conversion in our discussions however feed intake is an important consideration. Genetic improvement in feed conversion can be accomplished in several ways but we must consider the consequences on all of the grow-finish components not just feed efficiency. The ideal grow-finish pig is one that has a good feed intake and efficiently converts that feed into a high lean growth rate. The feed intake and growth components are keys in this equation. If one only pays attention to feed efficiency then it is quite possible to produce a very efficient pig but with low feed intake. This has a negative impact on growth rate and can also impact the pig’s ability to withstand other challenges (e.g. health) and thus variability in performance and death loss among the group. So one has to be careful how improved feed efficiency is attained from a genetic selection point of view.

Genetic selection decisions and improvement of feed conversion can have a significant impact on pork production economics. At Genesus we have always had an emphasis on feed conversion as a main trait in both our terminal and maternal selection indexes. Our selection has always used a combination of growth rate and lean yield to achieve efficient lean growth without negatively impacting feed intake. For this example I have assumed a pig will gain 225 lb. in grow finish and a feed cost of $.25/lb. Table 1 is the expected genetic change in feed conversion and impact on grow-finish feed cost in our maternal breeds, Yorkshire and Landrace, our terminal breed Duroc and the crossbred market pig (Duroc X Yorkshire-Landrace).

Table 1. Annual genetic change in feed conversion and impact on feed costs
BreedExpected Improvement, FCImpact of reduced feed costs ($/pig)1
Yorkshire -.046 $2.59
Landrace -.047 $2.64
Duroc -.066 $3.71
Market pig (DxY-L) -.056 $3.15
1 Assumes 225lb of gain and $.25/lb. feed cost

This type of economic impact is significant especially if you consider it at a herd level. Given a sow herd of 2400 sows marketing 26.5 pigs per sow per year (63,600 market pigs) then the impact is over $200,000 per year in reduced feed cost (63,600 x $3.15). Further savings in reduced gestation feed costs thru reduced maintenance energy requirements for sows would enhance this savings. Cleary genetic improvement can have a significant impact on feed cost just as it has on sow productivity and other key economic traits. Additionally genetic change is cumulative so the annual benefits accumulate over time. The impact of predictable and stable genetic improvement for key traits has always been important and its effect is even more important in today’s economic environment.

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