Late plantings, wet conditions and fluctuating prices have many pig farmers wondering if it’s time to get serious about alternative feed ingredients in diets.
“Even though the corn planting is certainly later than ideal and there'll be many acres not planted to corn that had intentions to, our corn-based diets are still the bread and butter of what we feed our pigs in the U.S., especially through the midwestern states,” says Joel DeRouchey, Kansas State University swine Extension specialist.
Although corn and soybean meal have been industry standards for supplying energy and protein, DeRouchey says there are many suitable energy alternatives that could meet nutritional requirements while reducing the cost of the diet.
The most important thing to consider is the nutrient content of the ingredient and to have the right estimate of energy.
“When we replace corn with other alternatives that can be economical, we want to make sure we are valuing that ingredient appropriately. Corn, even at a higher cost, may have still been better to use than an alternative if we are not valuing it correctly or have a high-quality alternative available to actually use in the diet that we are trying to replace all or a portion of corn with,” DeRouchey says.
Consider Regional Options
Depending on your geography, Omarh Mendoza, Director of Nutrition for The Maschhoffs, says wheat, distillers dried grains or milo can be good alternatives to corn. He says there are other sources of energy to consider, too, like bakery meal and other co-products from cereal grains. But these sources are very dependent on geography.
“Wheat is being fed in Texas right now, and depending on what this corn does, we may be feeding wheat here in the Midwest this summer,” says Wayne Cast, a swine nutrition consultant.
Wheat midds are more regional, but they offer us an opportunity in many parts to replace generally 5% to 10% of the corn that we normally use, DeRouchey adds.
“Generally, distillers right now is being fed between 10 and 20%. But we can increase that, especially as we get into the fall and winter, when growth rates of pigs generally go up and we can utilize more by-products more cost effectively versus our summer marketing time,” DeRouchey says.
He cautions that with bakery meal, other by-products can often get blended in with the bakery meal, so it’s important not to double-up on those alternatives that are already being utilized in the diet.
Smaller producers can be more nimble due to availability and supply, Mendoza says, and take advantage of localized options such as human food industry products, including dairy products such as ice cream, cereal-based foods like granola and even confectionery, which can be used as an energy source and partially replace grain.
It’s important to consider how the use of technologies, for example nutritional feed additives or feed processing, can help boost efficiency, Mendoza says. Getting your pigs to gain more with less is something everyone should look at regardless of pricing and cost, but specifically in high-feed cost scenarios.
Cast says farmers need to focus on how to make their diets more calorically efficient.
“Improve your corn’s efficiency by focusing on how fine you grind your grain,” Cast says.
When you reduce the particle size in the range from 1,000 microns to 500 microns, every 100 microns can improve feed efficiency by 1.3%, Cast says.
Is Corn Still the Best Option?
In 1994 when corn was in short supply, Cast recalls formulating diets with popcorn, millet, milo and every grain people could think of in North America. He remembers his mother asking what swine producers were going to do. His answer: you use what you have.
“Economics work, it just takes us a while sometimes to figure out what we need to do,” Cast says.
According to the May 10 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, the 2019 projected carryover of corn was forecast at 2.095 billion bushels.
“We aren’t going to run out of corn, look at how much we carried over,” Cast says. “Once you see that, you may feel better about things.”
He also believes there will be some acres switched around, because corn is more valuable.
Despite a challenging corn-planting season, The Maschhoffs will continue to use corn. But, Mendoza says it may well be a different crop this year in terms of quality.
“We’re going to have to stay on top of quality of the grain coming in,” Mendoza says. “We’re going to have to start thinking about testing procedures above and beyond what we would normally do in a normal crop scenario.”
DeRouchey agrees that farmers purchasing corn or even using their own corn which may have been stored, need to be vigilant about checking moisture levels as there’s more opportunity for corn in storage to develop different mycotoxins.
“We have to think about what this means for our pigs,” Mendoza says. “For the molds to proliferate, you need certain conditions and elevated moisture levels is one of them, and we’ve sure had that. However, having the mold present doesn’t mean you’ll have the mycotoxin, but there’s a good chance.”
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