Costs are rising for feed, energy, and almost every element involved in pork production. Input costs have not gone down compared to how the price of pork has fallen since its recent peak in June 2021. This leaves producers showing margins in the red, and now is the time to look at ways they can cut pork production costs in as many ways as possible.
While there are numerous ways in which to reduce pork production costs, the following methods can be put in place relatively quickly. These range from investments in automated production equipment to formulating feed to develop a more reliable feed conversion rate (FCR), and from lowering dependence on medications to improving finishing performance by raising piglet weaning weights.
When finishing pigs, the use of automated sorting scales allows producers to sort animals based on their weights and implement accurate phase-feeding. Such weighing allows farmers to sort out animals that have reached finishing weight without wasting nutrients, while those that have yet to reach it can be fed a diet to accelerate growth.
Osborne’s Weight Watcher Growth Management System offers these advantages by: reducing feed cost by target-feeding, cutting sort loss, allowing more turns of the barn, reducing weight variation, reducing need for labor, and eliminating manual sorting errors.
Farmers cut pork production costs by developing a system for ranking older sows based on their farrowing performance and ability to reproduce. Using such evaluations, the bottom 10 percent of sows could be culled, getting rid of the least productive among them.
Research shows that removing vitamins and minerals from food mixes a month before slaughter does not affect the quality or amount of pork harvested. Farmers should consider too that adding certain nutrients to feed increases the cost of producing pork markedly. For this reason, feed additives should be carefully studied to determine which are effective, and during which specific feeding phases they’re most effective.
Those vitamins soluble in fat – such as vitamins A, D and E – often contribute up to half the price of premixed feed, greatly adding to pork production costs. These vitamins and other trace minerals accumulate earlier in pigs’ growth and are stored in their livers, so become unnecessary late in the finishing phase. Reducing these expenses can decrease spending on feed by at least one percent, though feed additives that promote gut health actually lower the price of feed by weight, while also increasing feed expenses.
How feed is formulated contributes a great deal to the expense of pork production. Costs fall as net energy is reduced in feed, along with lower amino acid, crude protein, SID (standardized ileal digestibility) lysine and other nutrient levels. Properly analyzing variations in feed allows farmers to lower their safety margins for pig diets. Reducing variations in crude proteins can lower expenses for feed used in finishing pigs, often achieved by simply monitoring amounts of protein-rich grains and other feed. Similarly, varying starch and fat content for energy-rich feeds reduces variation, resulting in more reliable FCR. Using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR), feed can be quickly and cost-effectively analyzed, allowing farmers to reformulate feeds depending on nutrient content.
Osborne’s Big Wheel Feeders help conserve feed by reducing waste. Unlike conventional rectangular feeders, Big Wheel Feeders rely on the pigs – not gravity – for feed flow, keeping feed from free-flowing into the trough when pigs are not eating. These feeders feature a multi-spoke wheel inside a trough with a special “sweep” inside the storage hopper that is connected to the wheel. As pigs are feeding, feed is “swept” from the hopper into the trough, but only when pigs are moving the wheel. This design eliminates gravity flow and ensures all feed is going into the pigs and is not wasted on the floor or in the pit. The Big Wheel design ensures a constant availability of fresh feed, reduced labor due to self-cleaning troughs and minimal adjustments to flow, more standing room to eliminate competition, and reduction in feed waste due to its mechanical design.
As FCR increases, pigs consume the most volume of feed once reaching the finisher phase, at 80 kg (about 176 lbs.) and greater. By adding other feeding phases, pork production costs are reduced, as it allows for the decrease in concentrations of nutrients necessary during the last feeding phases. Pigs in the finisher phase mainly add fat rather than muscle, reducing SID lysine levels and net energy in their diets, saving on feed costs.
Overuse of antibiotics only adds to pork production costs without producing any real benefits, especially when using broad-spectrum treatments. These and other medications should only be given to animals when needed, rather than as a blanket treatment.
Heater settings shouldn’t conflict with fan placement. Heaters should be set at about 2˚ C (3.6˚ F) above target temperature to allow for a rise in temperature due to animals’ body heat. Temperatures should be monitored to detect any rise in temperatures when the heat is off. Fans should also be properly sized for the number of pigs in the barn. Additionally, drafts within a barn are easily remedied by ensuring shutters on fans are in place, especially on colder winter days. Additionally, more energy-efficient heating methods can be utilized in other areas, like investing once in energy-efficient farrowing heat mats instead of unreliable heat lamps, which require constant monitoring and replacing broken and burned out bulbs over and over.
The most expensive mineral added to pig feed is phosphorus, though it only makes up between a half to one percent of total feed expenses. Reducing phosphorus in feed decreases pork production costs without decreasing growth rates. Furthermore, a chemical called phytase becomes more efficient when releasing plant-based phosphorus, meaning less is needed in the feed.
Making feed into pellets – a process called pelleting – reduces wastage of feed and improves utilization of its nutrients. This improves feed conversion by about one or two percent, easily offsetting the costs associated with processing feed into pellets. This must be done with care, however, as feed ground too fine negatively affects gut health.
The weight and age of a pig increases FCR, as with higher body weight comes greater feed requirements in order to maintain this weight. When in the finishing stage at around 80 kg (about 176 lbs.), pigs normally develop thick fat on their backs more quickly than muscle. As muscle is heavier than fat, weight gain slows during this phase. Instead of sending pigs to market at 125-130 kg (about 275-287 lbs.), slaughtering at a weight of 10-15 kg (22-33 lbs.) below this threshold will result in significantly improved FCR, lowering pork production costs, especially at times when feed costs are high.
Castrated males, known as barrows, have considerably higher FCR than sows expecting their first litter, also called gilts. This results from lower daily gains in barrows, along with a higher feed intake during free feeding. Restricting barrows over 75 kg (about 165 lbs.) to 80 percent free-feeding is ideal. This can be accomplished by offering them less feed, lowering energy content in the feed and increasing fiber content considerably.
By separating sexes, pig farmers can formulate barrows’ feed so that it has lower SID, a method used to estimate amino acid digestibility and to formulate diets. In this way, gilts can utilize feed with higher net energy and SID lysine than the barrows.
Raising uncastrated male pigs for market results in higher percentages of lean meat, though it also risks boar taint from the uncastrated boars. Though levels of boar taint occur in about 4-8 percent of boars, it can also occur in gilts.
While automated feeding should mean minimal labor, many automatic feeding systems can have issues. Bridged feed or clumps in bulk bins can affect feed delivery systems by reducing the automated flow of feed into feeders and feeding spaces, as well as affect the integrity of the system itself. One solution to minimizing feed delivery issues is to invest in a bin agitator. Some agitators use high-frequency vibrations, loosening components or fasteners on feeding bins and causing the need for additional maintenance. Others just break down feed pellets, sometimes even reducing them to dust, increasing wastage and making the feed nearly inedible. Still, others run constantly, causing feed to unload unevenly and even compact.
While preventing the need for farmworkers to “beat on” feed bins to keep them from getting stuck, Osborne’s Flow Pro Bin Agitator also reduces pork production costs by utilizing a gently rotating agitator that operates at a lower frequency to minimize maintenance, only when the feed system is turned on and by gently rotating the auger to keep feed from compacting or being crushed.
Additionally, it allows farm staff to harness data collected from monitoring devices that help schedule feed delivery, allowing pig farmers to optimize feeding.
Pig farmers can increase the length of lactation and raise the weights at which piglets are weaned to to help reduce mortality and increase finishing performance. This can improve weaning time by half a day on average without spending any additional money. It’s estimated in pork production that costs for each day gained in lactation is worth around $1.70 per pig.
Although our “14 Methods for Decreasing Pork Production Costs” is not an all-encompassing list, implementing some of these changes now can improve profitability when the price of pork is low. To inquire about ways our pig production equipment and livestock products can reduce your operating costs, please contact us today!