I'd like to address those U.S. producers who haven't yet fully realized how important this new way of feeding grow-finish pigs is.

What is it, and how did the idea start?

Some 15 years ago in Europe, we realized that different pig genotypes (a genotype is what's inside an animal's genetic make-up as distinct from a phenotype, which is what the animal looks like) needed rather different nutritional specifications. This resulted in the "feeds for the breeds" concept which soon caught on.

Ten years ago, more than 40% of British genotypes were being fed with a customized diet to suit, as closely as possible, breed differences.

After a while, we noticed that the same genotypes in standard housing but on different farms were giving puzzlingly different performance responses. We saw a difference of as much as 25 lb. of saleable meat per ton of food, which in money at the time was equivalent to a price difference per ton of 9%.

Any farmer would kill to get a feed that much cheaper for the same performance yield.

Thinking Caps So certain feed companies put on their thinking caps. They came to the conclusion that while environmental differences between the farms were a little different, the only major difference left must be the disease status of the different farms' pig populations. This was true particularly with the amount of food energy needed to build up a good protective immune barrier where the pathogen or virus challenge was high.

But the problem remained of how to know which farms needed the high immune status and which pigs didn't. They both looked healthy enough. But those needing the higher immunity barrier just grew slower and converted worse.

This was elegantly demonstrated by Tim Stahly's team (Iowa State University) in 1995. They showed that protein gain/day was 62% more in lean genotype pigs, which virtually didn't have to cope with a high disease challenge. With little or no immunity to invest in, they would use all the nutrients to especially grow lean.

Test Or Challenge Feeding The veterinarians said they could help, but their test would be cumbersome and expensive.

So it was decided to test or challenge a representative group (about 50 growing pigs) on each farm twice a year, both summer and winter. They would use what nutritionists call "a non-limiting diet," one where nearly every ingredient is provided a little more generously than the textbooks advise. The pigs could help themselves.

These 50 or so pigs were carefully monitored for total growth and for lean growth, using an expensive lean profile saddle-scanner. Environmental conditions, disease status, feed consumed, etc., were also recorded and sent to the nutritionist along with the carcass grades.

The nutritionist was then able to construct a lean accretion curve for those pigs on that farm at that time. No, you don't do this work. The feed compounder sends a person to do it.

From there, it was a simple job (for the nutritionist) to design a best-cost diet to meet that particular lean growth curve. We call it an FSD (Farm Specific Diet). In American terminology, it's a sort of ultra-customized diet to suit individual buildings if needed, let alone individual farms.

Very few results have been published in Europe (although plenty exist) because the concept was developed commercially, and the pioneer feed companies wanted to keep the good news under wraps.

But I can show you some results in Table 1, which are fairly typical. Anything giving a 21% higher net profit is worth exploring on your farm, even if the feed costs 7% more as in this case.

Price/Ton Gone? This brings me on to what could be an earth-shattering thought. If FSDs catch on universally, then price per ton just doesn't matter any more. Sure, the FSD food will cost more because the cost of the test and the diet design work needed has to be loaded on to their price per ton quotation.

But if the margin over feed cost is higher (as it nearly always is), then the increased price per ton doesn't matter, because you'll win in profit terms anyway.

Come to think of it, as most feed selling is still done on price, then the expensive feed salesman method of selling is largely redundant.

Here's a little secret. One feed firm has reduced and re-trained their 40 or more reps down to 10 or fewer specialists in this concept, and cut 60% off their sales costs.

A Multiplicity Of Diets I can hear you say, "It won't work. No feed company with, say, 500 grow-out customers can make 500 different diets!"

Sorry, you're wrong. All the specifications can be made from two, or at most three, diets delivered to your farm and put into two or three separate bins. You then blend the diets to achieve the correct FSD for your pigs. You can do this either by computerized instruction, or the feed company can do it from a distance over a land-line at night.

The on-farm methodology just needs organizing and a blender installed, about the size of a TV set. So it's not expensive.

No wonder the feed trade, now sweating under conventional production methods and needing to sell 10-20 different grower diets, looks favorably on doing the lot with only three.

Sure, this farm blending idea is much easier and so much cheaper with a wet (pipeline feeding) system installed. But I've hammered Americans to get into pipeline wet feeding for years and this is just more evidence of the fact that the future of grow-out feeding lies this way.

Home-Grown Information Even if the U.S. is a bit slow in cottoning-on to pipeline feeding, you are doing great work in developing the test/challenge feeding concept yourselves.

I refer you to American research specialists like Steve Dritz and Mike Tokach. There are others. So listen to them and read up on their work. Many U.S. feed companies are looking at it, too. In the field, Jim Pettigrew is an independent consultant in this subject.