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Precision nutrition for niche market swine producers

A new study may allow niche market swine producers with data to precisely match the nutrients in feed to what their pigs need -- and cut down on feed costs.

Iowa State University animal science professor, John Mabry, along with the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPAA), are studying the nutritional needs of pigs raised in niche markets. In the past few years, the market has seen a consumer demand despite being a new development in agriculture. “In these value-added markets, the primary cost of producing a pig is the same as in the regular, commodity market; it’s the cost of the feed. Feed costs have gone up so much that it compromises about 65% of the cost of the production of any animal,” Mabry said.

Niche pig producers can’t feed their animals the same series of rations that commodity pigs are fed. “Niche pig producers are dealing with genetics that are nontraditional. The animals don’t have the same intake patterns as commodity pigs, and they don’t deposit the same amount of lean vs. fat,” Mabry said.

By the means of a grant, the IPPA is helping the Iowa State team study Berkshire pigs to find the correct feeding formula. In addition, there are researchers at the ISU Western Research and Demonstration Farm near Castana. Results have shown that cost savings outweigh the cost of additional work needed to grind, mix, and deliver the rations. “ We think utilizing these feed budgets on intake, specifically for Berkshire pigs, is an important opportunity to save anywhere from $10 to $20 a pig. If a producer finishes 18 groups of 200 pigs each year, it could add up to an annual savings of $72,000,” Mabry said.

Steve Kerns, a Berkshire producer near Clearfield, Iowa, and an Iowa State graduate, agrees that niche market pig producers need assistance with record keeping and understanding the needs of their pigs. Kerns is a cofounder of Heritage Berkshire international, one of only five Berkshire farmer groups in the U.S. “Once the results of the study are out, we can fine-tune our operations. There’s nothing out there currently, and there’s a great demand for Berkshire pork – we can’t keep up with the demand,” Kerns said.

IPPA plans to find a producer willing to try the new feed protocols, and Iowa State will monitor the implementation to analyze ease of application and cost savings. IPPA will allocate educational time to the niche market production at the Iowa Pork Congress in January as well as publish a case study in its magazine.

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