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Will a pig grow on NO feed? Let's find out

Agriculture.com Staff 06/06/2008 @ 4:14pm

Not every company with a booth or exhibit at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines this week claims that their product can save feed. But, a lot of them do.

Signs in the exhibit aisles scream out to the hog farmers: "Cut feed costs!"; "Get more efficient!"; "Let us help you save on the feed bill!"

These exhibitors aren't dumb -- they know that the first question on every pork producer's mind these days is how to survive with six-dollar corn.

I wonder, as I wander those aisles, if I put enough of these products to use, could I get so efficient that my pigs would grow on absolutely NO feed, just breathing air? OK, let's see what we can do.

My first stop is at the A.J. O'Mara Group, LLC. There, John A'Mara explains their line of stainless steel hog feeders, called Feed Ease Equipment. The Cadillac of the lineup is a grow-finish feeder that has a water nipple right in the feed trough. To get a drink, the pigs have to run water onto the feed, which encourages consumption of both. They waste less of the liquid feed, partly because when the pigs step back from the feeder, there's less dry feed stuck to their mouth that can drop into the manure pit. The result is a 5% to 7% improvement in feed efficiency, says O'Mara. I decide on the spot that when given a range, I'm going to take the high end, in this case, 7% better feed efficiency. Great, one stop and I've saved seven percent of my feed bill.

Next stop is just across the aisle at the booth of IFA Roller Grinders of tiny Stanley, Iowa. Lee Drewelow of the company says his feed grinder is actually a roller mill, with two rolling drums that turn at different speeds and crush the corn into finer particles than the other kind of grinder, a hammermill. The finer particles (650 microns versus 1,000 for the hammermill) means there is less dust, less feed separation, and more efficient conversion in the pig's gut. The sign on Drewelow's booth says it saves 50 pounds of feed per pig finished. "We normally think it takes 10 bushels of corn to finish a pig, but we can reduce that to 9," he says. By my math, that's a 10% savings. Add that to the Feed Ease feeder, and our combined savings are now 17% -- we're getting there!

A little farther down the aisle is the display of Genetiporc, a breeding company that sells boars and gilts. Dr. Dan Hamilton, their technical services manager, tells me that they have a new terminal sire line that is bred just for feed efficiency. Combined with their most feed efficienct female line, the offspring will consistently use .15 pounds less feed per pound of gain than other genetics. In other words, if your current feed conversion is 2.75 pounds of feed per pound of gain, you might reduce that to 2.60 with Genetiporc's G Performer boar, and it's Fertilis 25 sow. That's nearly a 6% gain in feed efficiency.

Add it up: We're saving 23% of our feed now! No time to stop here.

Kevin Curry at Alpharma tells us about their BMD feed additive, active ingredient bacitracin antibiotic. It's almost never used in humans, so this antibiotic gets less grief from those who worry about bacterial resistance from animal use. It's typically used from 50 pounds to market weight at a low level to ward off harmful microbes, there's no withdrawal period, and it will save 30-35 pounds of feed per hog with 3% better feed efficiency. Curry even finds a way to tout the "green" benefits of this product: "There's less manure to spread."

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