A Kansas State researcher suggests it's time to make sure feeding programs really pay their way.

The days of basing the economic value of a hog feeding program on feed cost/lb. of gain alone may be over, according to a Kansas State University (KSU) researcher.

Producers need to be using more inclusive measurements of profitability, says Mike Tokach, KSU Extension swine specialist. Margin over feed cost is easy to figure and provides a more complete picture of the impact of a nutritional change on profit, he says.

Case Study Proves Point A trial showed an increase in diet cost; therefore, feed cost/lb. of gain actually resulted in increased profitability.

Some 1,200 barrows and gilts were fed a corn and soybean meal-based diet with varying levels of lysine from 40 to 80 lb. to determine lysine's impact on growth performance and carcass composition. Diets with 6% added fat contained a range of lysine levels: 0.80, 0.95, 1.10, 1.25 or 1.40%.

The greatest performance boost occurred when lysine levels were increased from 0.80 to 0.95%. There were further improvements in feed/gain as lysine levels were raised. Growth was optimized at 1.10% dietary lysine. Feed/gain improved slightly through 1.40% lysine.

To determine the best lysine level, Tokach and fellow KSU researchers used a 10-year historical price series for corn, soybean meal, choice white grease and market hogs. They calculated which diet provided the lowest feed cost/lb. of gain and the greatest margin over feed cost. The average value is shown in Table 1.

The diet of 0.95% lysine provided the lowest feed cost/lb. of gain in 100 of the 120 months (10 years) or 83% of the time, explains Tokach. The diets with 1.10% lysine or 1.40% lysine had the lowest feed cost/lb. of gain in five (4%) and 15 (13%) of the 120 months, respectively.

But, the results were slightly different when a value was placed on the extra weight gain of pigs fed the higher lysine diets, says Tokach. Diets of 1.10, 1.25 or 1.40% lysine provided an extra $1.27 to $1.63 return over feed cost compared to the diet containing 0.95% lysine. An additional $2.57-$2.93 return over feed cost was captured when compared to the diet formulated with 0.80% lysine.

Overall, in 118 of the 120 months, the diet containing 1.40% lysine provided the most return over feed cost. The diet containing 1.10% lysine provided the greatest return in the other two months.

"The optimal lysine level (1.10% to 1.40%) would rarely have minimized feed cost per pound of gain, but almost always maximized margin over feed costs," Tokach says.

Diet Cost Still Matters Despite those results, diet cost is still important, says Tokach. It's still important to keep down ingredient costs. Unless average daily gain is improved by the higher diet cost, those diets that provide the lowest feed cost/lb. of gain will continue to produce the most profit.

In short, producers should focus on factors that will either reduce feed costs without affecting productivity or on factors that will boost returns.

Just remember, when trying to increase revenue by adding lysine, energy, growth-promoting agents or a carcass modifier to the diet, make sure the increase in revenue exceeds the increase in feed cost, stresses Tokach.

Tokach spoke at Pork Academy, an annual event sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health the day before World Pork Expo.

Kansas State University (KSU) researchers have developed new sow feeding guidelines. Research indicates litter weights and milk production increase with larger amounts of feed.

Guidelines suggest feeding sows, before farrowing, up to 6 lb. in two feedings, morning and night. On farrowing day, feed three times at 2 lb. each, provided the feeder is empty after each feeding period. If the feeder is not empty, the sow is not to be offered the next round of feed during the first couple of days of lactation.

The day after farrowing, feed sows 9 lb. a day in three separate feedings. If feed is left from earlier feedings, reduce the amount or skip the next feeding time.

After the third day of lactation, sows should get 8 lb. of feed three times a day. If the sow leaves less than 2 lb. of feed, only offer 4 lb. of feed next time. If she leaves more than 2 lb., don't add feed until the next feeding time.

An illustrated sow feeder card for the farrowing barn is now available from KSU. The front-and-back laminated card uses pictures of feeders to tell how to feed sows.

For a copy of the sow feeder card, contact Penny Adams at the KSU Northeast Area Office at (785) 532-5833. The charge is $4.