With 195,000 pigs on feed, and the majority of them being fed out in wean-to-finish barns, it's no wonder Dykhuis Farms' Brandon Hill is a stickler for details when it comes to swine nutrition.

Hill is finishing production manager for this Holland, MI-based hog operation, and with a master's degree in swine nutrition from Purdue University, he's also in charge of diet modifications and monitoring for pigs, and the 20,000 sows in the farrow-to-finish operation.

Balancing ration costs and performance starts with an older weaned pig, he asserts. By weaning a 21- to 24 day-old pig, Dykhuis Farms has been able to eliminate the first starter diet, and in the process, observe that the 15- to 17-lb. pigs flourish.

“We have seen a 0.05-lb. difference in average daily gain, or a 14-lb. increase in total live weight gain between a 11-lb. earlier-weaned pig vs. an older weaned pig,” Hill states.

“Certainly, you have more cost in your sow facilities by putting more (farrowing) crates in, but we think the payback there on pig performance and the elimination of early diet costs makes it easy to justify,” he says.

Weaned pigs still receive some milk products, fishmeal, etc. in the second diet, but of less duration and cost than if they were fed the first starter diet ($650/ton vs. $1,000/ton).

Pushing By-Products

At Dykhuis Farms, the high cost of corn-soy diets has spurred use of by-product ingredients. Depending on availability and price, rations may include up to 40% by-products.

The “big three” by-products consistently fed to wean-to-finish pigs are distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS), wheat middlings and bakery products, Hill relates.

DDGS inclusion rates start at 10% in the late nursery, ramp up to 15% in early grow-finish, then bump up to 25% in mid-finishing (140-220 lb.) before dropping back down to 15% in late finishing. Feed flowability can be an issue when it is hot and humid.

With Kellogg's (cereal manufacturer) just to the east in the Battle Creek/Kalamazoo, MI, area, wheat middlings from flour and bakery products provide good sources of alternative ingredients. Wheat midds can replace up to 15% of the ration if priced right, he says.

Meat and bone meal is a fourth by-product fed in nursery and early grow-finish, providing a great source of available phosphorus and protein.

To replace the energy provided by corn in the diet, there is no substitute better than liquid fat, even though price has quadrupled in the last few years, according to Hill.

“The energy density of diets must be balanced in relation to the expected return on investment in improved feed conversion and the corn-to-fat price ratio,” he says. Some producers in Michigan have substituted pet food, but Hill says he hasn't tried it yet.

Alternative Sow Feed

As Michigan is a large dairy state, with numerous creameries near Dykhuis Farms, sows are routinely fed the equivalent of 1.25 lb. dry matter as liquid whey or yogurt. It cuts feed costs while providing a good source of protein, phosphorus and calcium, Hill says.

Sows not on liquid whey - lactating sows and gilts - are fed 80 lb. of meat and bone meal that reduce costs $1.50/ton, while providing complete replacement for inorganic phosphate in the diet.

Sows are fed up to 20% DDGS in gestation and 5% DDGS in lactation diets without an apparent reduction in feed intake, he notes.

Besides flowability, the other main issue with DDGS is mycotoxin contamination, but Hill says staff monitors toxicity levels closely.

Available phosphorus inclusion has been reduced by a tenth, from 0.55 to 0.45%, lowering manure phosphorus levels and cost in sow diets.

Hill adds: “We will continue to evaluate this level and potentially reduce it again if we are comfortable, because there simply has not been enough good research completed in the industry to know exactly where we can take this.”

Along with that, adding almost 500 phytase units/lb. of feed vs. 250 units/lb. of feed in sow diets can save about $2/ton of feed, depending on ingredient pricing.

Supplements Adjusted

Three supplements have been pulled or cut back from sow rations. High levels of zinc were used in gilt development for feet and legs, “but the data just isn't there to say the results are conclusive,” he says. Data was also somewhat inconclusive for chromium. Biotin inclusion was reduced but not eliminated. “We left in a little bit for sows in pen gestation just because there are potentially more feet/hoof issues,” he notes.

All of those reductions in nutritional ingredients and supplements add up. “We've gone from a conventional corn-soy diet a few years ago at 1,500 lb. of corn/ton of feed, to about 900 lb. of corn/ton of feed on average in the finishing period,” Hill says.

Similar adjustments have been made on soybean meal as rations have been ratcheted down, lowering crude protein and replacing amino acids with synthetic amino acids for a $4/ton savings. For mid- to late-finishing, soybean meal has been reduced from around 325 lb./ton of feed down to 150 lb./ton of feed.

“You can achieve that reduction by adding synthetic amino acids, lysine, threonine and methionine to balance that reduction in crude protein. Our goal is to maintain performance while lowering our feed costs, and we have been able to do that to this point,” Hill declares.

Overall, he estimates that hundreds of thousands of dollars are being saved annually by using alternative feed ingredients and making ration changes.

Feed Additives

The only antimicrobial routinely used in grow-finish diets is Stafac (Phibro Animal Health); injectable antibiotics are used for spot treatment.

Paylean (ractopamine), the growth-enhancing feed additive from Elanco Animal Health, is one product Hill says should remain in finishing pig diets.

“We use Paylean to boost efficiency and gain on all of our production because research has proven it works time and time again in university and in-house trials. We see an advantage in feed efficiency, average daily gain and in carcass performance. However, as with any feed additive, you must continually evaluate if it is paying for itself,” he emphasizes.

Feed Quality, Management

Micron size is a huge issue when dealing with costly corn and six different toll mill partners for contract growers in Indiana and Michigan. Toll millers are contacted biweekly to assure micron size is being met.

“We are shooting for 550 to 650 microns with a 2.3 or lower standard deviation. Standard deviation is as important as the micron size, because you can have a micron size of 600, but if the standard deviation is say 3.5 or higher, a large portion of that feed could be 1,200 microns and some of it could be 400 microns,” Hill explains.

Feeder adjustment has been a big focus. Dykhuis Farms uses exclusively wet-dry tube feeders from Thorp Equipment because they adjust more closely than a dry feeder and are easier to monitor.

Barn Flow

Dykhuis Farms operates four pig flows that are commingled in order to fill large sites quickly. Keys to making that work include no more than a week's difference in age, similar health status and all-in, all-out production flow.

“If we identify a PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome)-positive flow, then we will try to segregate those pigs into their own flow if finishing space allows,” Hill notes. Small weaned pigs, under 8 lb., are segregated to a separate, small pig flow.

Pig placements are overstocked to decrease facility costs. The 1,000-head barns are traditionally stocked at close to 1,070 head, but sometimes at 1,150 head if space demand is great. Overstocking by 15% has not impacted average daily gain as long as the first cut of market hogs is done earlier — at 265-270 lb. — instead of their traditional market weight of around 280 lb.

Proof in Performance

Hill stresses good growers are carefully recruited and strongly retained. Dykhuis Farms gets plenty of calls from potential growers, because farmers want the valuable manure from the pigs.

But he says they are “picky,” choosing to rely mostly on references from existing growers and evaluating the true motives for building a facility.

Existing growers are prized and hopefully emulated. “We tell all of our guys how our first grower, who started in 1994, has taken immaculate care of his buildings, and we've signed him on for another five-year contract,” he says.

Each grower provides a quad building (four rooms of 1,000 head), labor and land for manure application, and Dykhuis Farms provides regular consulting and marketing services, veterinary care and feed.

Weaned pigs are hauled to growers in Indiana and southern Michigan in two specially designed, four-deck trailers. Each holds 2,200-2,300 pigs, saving labor and fuel.

Technical service staff visits all barns in the system once a week. They are highly trained to identify problems and post pigs. “Our field staff are stockmen and husbandry people who are dedicated and a huge value to this company,” Hill says.

Hill credits the team of field service technicians and dedicated growers for playing a vital role in the success of wean-to-finish performance with average daily gain reaching 1.85 lb./day and barn closeouts hitting 4% or less death loss.