Producers often get excited when they locate a source of feed alternatives at a reasonable price. But Joel DeRouchey says there's a lot to be considered before locking in a load.

Many producers are scouring sources to save on high-priced corn and soybean meal. However, the first step should be to check the quality consistency of the shipment, then whether future shipments will likely be uniform in quality over time.

“Getting spot loads can help over a short period, but if logistical and quality concerns are present, it may not do you a lot of good,” surmises DeRouchey, Kansas State University.

Will Alternatives Work?

Most corn and soybean meal-based diets use a digestible amino acid base for formulating diets. With data lacking on digestibility for some alternative feed ingredients, producers and nutritionists may have to estimate those values or formulate on a total amino acid basis, DeRouchey says.

Distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS) is a good example of an alternative feedstuff with variations in digestibility. Data for DDGS in 2006 from Hans Stein of the University of Illinois shows a range in digestibility from 43.9 to 63%. That is a huge range that changes diet formulation and the amount of extra soybean meal required to balance that mixed swine ration, he continues.

A 2008 update from Stein showed a range in variability of 60.3 to 67.4% for DDGS, a much tighter range, but still presented some concern for variability.

“Variability occurs in other alternatives as well, so we have to have good values and some confidence in that plant, yet understand that some days' loads are going to be better and some days' loads are going to be worse,” he says.

Dietary energy levels must be monitored closely, even as the industry moves to increased use of alternative ingredients with more fiber in order to keep rations balanced and feed efficiency and performance equal.

Again, DeRouchey reminds producers that DDGS compares closely to corn in terms of energy level. Other alternative ingredients with lower energy concentrations may require added fat to maintain equal growth performance. However, it can be more economical to feed a lower energy diet and have decreased performance.

Overall feed costs can also increase when “cheap” alternative ingredients suddenly become popular and the price advantage is lost. “Along with availability, continued economic advantage must be realized. Sudden increases in demand for a lower-priced alternative may drive prices up, making the new product uneconomical in a short period of time,” he warns.

Even if feed alternatives appear advantageous, introducing a new alternative may be impractical if adding bin space is cost prohibitive.

Here's a quick rundown on some positive and negative aspects of feed alternatives:

  • DDGS: This by-product can replace part of the corn in the swine diet as an energy source, giving it an advantage over many other alternatives. DDGS also provides 3-4 times the availability of phosphorus in corn.

    In general, DDGS can be fed up to 30% in a grow-finish diet, but growth rates in finishing can suffer at levels greater than 20%. Sow gestation diets generally range from 20-30% DDGS; the usual rule is to feed half the amount of DDGS in lactation that is fed in gestation rations.

    Watch DDGS for mycotoxins, especially in sow diets. Avoid buying DDGS from regions where corn is stressed during the growing season, which may produce mycotoxins.

    “One thing we do know about feeding distiller's is that carcass quality is affected,” DeRouchey states. “For every 10% distiller's we feed, we expect to see carcass yield go down by 0.4%, so feeding 20-30% distiller's can be a highly significant loss of revenue.

    “However, a decrease in feeding levels prior to market can help offset this effect. In reality, most producers who feed up to 30% distiller's drop down to 10-15% in the last one or two diet phases in finishing, mitigating the yield effect,” he adds.

    Assuming no difference in pig performance, you can afford to pay more for DDGS than corn because it is worth more due to the replacement of dietary soybean meal and added phosphorus, DeRouchey remarks.

  • Wheat middlings: About 20-25% of wheat by-products, including wheat midds, remain after processed flour is extracted from wheat.

    Wheat midds feature higher protein content than corn, higher phosphorus and better phosphorus digestibility than corn.

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  • However, it is moderate in energy content. “Wheat midds will lower dietary energy content and increase feed efficiency if we don't add fat to the diet,” he advises. Wheat midds work extremely well in pelleted diets as they act as a binder.

    The major disadvantage of wheat midds is that they contain 7.0-9.5% fiber, which increases the volume of the feed and manure that ends up in the pit, DeRouchey says.

    Wheat midds should be capped at 5% of nursery pig diets because of its lower-energy, higher-fiber content. Grow-finish diets can range up to 25%, and gestating sows can be fed as desired as long as the diet is properly balanced.

  • Bakery by-products: These by-products encompass a wide range of bakery, candy and pasta products.

    These human foods contain little protein, but they provide one of the few alternative ingredients with an energy profile high in carbohydrates and sugar that produces as much as 15% more energy than corn, he says.

    The downside of bakery products is a lack of uniformity. Salt content can also be quite high and must be accounted for in diet formulation.

    Relatively high fat content and low particle size makes flowability an issue and feeder adjustment a priority, DeRouchey comments. It can easily be fed to 30% of the diet.

  • Meat and bone meal: This by-pro-duct of the packing industry is actually two products — meat meal (meat without the bones) and meat and bones.

    Meat meal is higher in crude protein at 55%, while calcium and phosphorus concentrations are higher in meat and bone meal.

    Meat and bone meal may be a desirable feed alternative because it is higher in crude protein than soybean meal, but lysine content and digestibility of amino acids are lower.

    These meat and bone trimmings offer an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus, replacing monocalcium phosphate as it increases in price.

    Feed up to 5% of the diet without hurting performance, but higher levels can dampen feed efficiency and gain.

  • Synthetic amino acids: This alternative ingredient is used to replace soybean meal or protein in the diet to meet the pigs' amino acid needs, DeRouchey points out. It comes in liquid or dry form and is very economical to add to provide the basic lysine, threonine and methionine levels required.

Synthetic amino acids reduce nitrogen and ammonia excretions. Rapid absorption, however, can result in less efficient use in cases such as gestating sows fed once a day.

A regimen of 3 lb. of lysine per ton can be added to most corn-soy diets before supplemental threonine and methionine must be added to supplement crude protein levels.

Also, when feeding 10% DDGS to a corn-soy diet, about 5 lb./ton of L-lysine can be added to the diet before the other sources of lysine become limiting. “That replaces more soybean meal and helps the economics of feeding DDGS even more,” he says.

Diet Calculators Available

Learn more about feeding co-products from Kansas State. Calculators look at feed cost, inclusion level and yield impact.

Other calculators cover synthetic amino acids, fat analysis and feed budgets; feeder adjustment cards and particle size information are also available.

The National Pork Board has three recent publications on alternative ingredient resources, can be accessed.

DeRouchey's talk was given at a Pork Academy session at World Pork Expo.