Rising feed costs concern food animal veterinarians

Published on April 15, 2008
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Livestock feedFeed costs have skyrocketed in the past year, affecting not only livestock and poultry producers but also the veterinarians who help formulate the animals' diets.

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians devoted a session of its annual meeting to the topic of "Controlling Feed Costs," with speakers discussing the problem and potential solutions.

John M. Urbanchuk, an economist with LECG LLC, said feed prices have increased for a variety of reasons—such as production of fuel from crops, bad weather for crops in some countries outside the United States, demand from China and India, and high oil prices. The weak dollar also has led many speculators to invest in commodities, driving up feed prices.

Urbanchuk said the bubble will burst at some point, but he predicted that corn prices will remain high in the near future as more corn goes into ethanol production. Conversely, prices will drop for distillers grains, a byproduct of ethanol production that hog producers have been trying out as a feed ingredient.

Dr. Harold D. Tilstra of Land O'Lakes Purina Feed LLC in Minnesota spoke about some of the co-products of corn processing—such as hominy feed, corn bran, and dried distillers grains with solubles—that show promise as ingredients in swine diets. Hominy feed is similar nutritionally to corn, Dr. Tilstra said, and corn bran is similar nutritionally to oats. Dried distillers grains with solubles are a source of energy, phosphorus, lysine, and other nutrients.

Mike Tokach, PhD, of the Kansas State University Department of Animal Sciences and Industry noted that management strategies can increase the efficiency with which swine convert feed into weight gain. Strategies include decreasing the size of food particles and genetically selecting swine for feed efficiency.

John F. Patience, PhD, of Prairie Swine Centre Inc. in Saskatchewan addressed risks of adopting novel ingredients in swine diets. Pigs evolved to eat a diverse diet, he said, but evaluating ingredients is still important before test feeding. Key information about ingredients includes nutrient analysis, palatability, and handling characteristics.

Casey Neill of PIC Technical Services in Tennessee listed some other options outside of ingredient selection for controlling feed cost. He said pellet feeds can improve feed efficiency. Swine operations also can examine sources of feed wastage such as spillage, improper feeder design, improper feeder adjustment, and rodents.

Also at the AASV meeting, the National Pork Board noted the recent availability of "Practical Ideas to Address High Feed and Production Costs," a 12-page document on the Web at www.pork.org.