An economic analysis by an Alberta Agriculture specialist suggests hog producers may be paying too much for feed.
“Based on the energy value of Alberta barley samples at current market prices, hog producers will frequently be paying up to $17 per tonne too much for some barley loads, and $11 per tonne below energy value for others,” says Ron Gietz, provincial pork specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Brooks.
“Under current market conditions, the difference from best to worst barley is worth at least $8 per hog; that’s often the difference between profit and loss in this industry.”
Gietz notes that the normal variability in digestible energy content in barley is much higher than most people realize, and that there is no correlation between bushel weight or kernel plumpness and energy content.
“As such, with current buying practices, the feeding results you get, particularly feed efficiency and average daily gain, are completely random. This could result in less consistent hog production, excess waste output, or problems with barn capacity, in addition to the direct feed cost impacts mentioned above.”
Gietz suggests a two-step solution to this problem.
“The first step is to use technology to accurately measure the feed energy value of every load of feed grain that is purchased. The second step is to work with your nutritionist to separate the loads by energy level, and paying discounts or premiums to source the energy level you prefer. Both steps are necessary to address the feed-variability challenge.”
Gietz says that the preferred technology to measure feed energy value is called Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS). It can quickly and accurately measure the attributes of a sample on-site, or by sending the sample in to a remote network.
“Smaller producers are encouraged to send a sample to a NIRS network, such as the one run by the department of animal science at the University of Alberta. This is particularly important for those who grow their own feed. It’s a cost-effective way to know what you are feeding and what results to expect.”
“For producers with more scale, it is probably worthwhile to purchase your own NIRS machine for about $40,000 to give you the ability to test on-site. Basically, any hog operation that is large enough to mill its own feed should be taking a serious look at doing this.”
Currently, the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund (ACIDF), through their feed grain initiative, has a program which contributes up to $20,000 towards the purchase of a new NIRS machine.
“For a larger producer marketing 40,000 head annually, you would need only a 50 cent per head improvement in results to pay for the machine in one year, if you follow the all-important second step, and fully incorporate the new technology into feed purchasing and barn management,” adds Gietz.