How can swine producers cope with volatile prices?

Written by Steffen Hansen
Pork producers are always looking for ways to improve productivity. The feed costs and pork prices seem to be even more volatile than they appeared to be. So in that context, the focus on swine productivity is as relevant as ever before. The Danish organisation SEGES held a webinar where they focused on improved productivity through management changes.

To give you an idea of pig performance is in Denmark, table 1 below provides some actual figures.

Table 1. Figures for animal performance in Danish pig production

Year

2020

2019

2018

2017

DWG (30-110kg), g

1021

982

966

962

FI, FUsw, g/day

2.77

2.70

2.66

2.68

FCR (FUsw/kg)*

2.53

2.60

2.62

2.64

Weight, kg

90.4

87.6

86.2

86.9

Lean meat

61.6

61.4

61.1

60.7

*One kg feed for grower-finisher pigs contains in the range of 1.03 – 1.07 Feed units/kg feed

Does the feed composition set the limit?

It is well-known that the protein sources varies in digestability and the composition of amino acids. However, it is tempting to include cheaper protein sources in the feed because the lower price tag is appealing. Occasionally alternatives to soybean meal like sunflower meal and rapeseed products have a lower price. Theoretically, pig performance should not be affected when the feed formulation considers the changed digestibility and amino acid profile. In the SEGES webinar, the presenter showed one case where an increased rate of inclusion of soybean meal replaced a part of the sunflower meal.


The addition of more synthetic lysine furthermore increased the content of lysine in the diet. As a result, the diet was slightly more expensive, but the profit per pig increased by 20 DKK/pig. However, things are moving fast in the pig industry. Since the webinar, pork prices have plummetted by around 0.4 EUR per kg, and feed prices have increased further. The volatile prices and the case from the webinar tell us how crucial it is to monitor the net profit per pig constantly, given the cost and composition of the feed. In other words, a simulation of various combinations of feed costs and pig performance scenarios is a must for the optimisation of the financial result of the finisher pigs.

Increased feed intake and better feed conversion?

Liquid feeding is very popular in Danish pig production. There are pros and cons in a comparison between liquid and dry feeding. A widespread perception of liquid feed is that the feeding method can provide a better feed conversion because it is possible to have a restrictive feeding in contrast to dry feeding. In 2020 pork prices were very high, and as a result, many farmers tried to increase carcass weight by increasing the amount of feed offered to the pigs some weeks before slaughter. The logical expectation of the feed conversion was that it would be worse. The table below shows the results from one farm trial.

Table 2. Effect of increased feed intake and protein content on pig performance

Period 2019 1st Q 2020 2nd Q 2020 - 1st Q 2021
FI Finishing period FUsw/day 3.2 3.4 3.4
Starter diet composition* 131/9.2 136/9.8 136/9.9
Finishing diet composition* 125/7.8 130/8.3 135/8.7
DWG, g 1046 1130 1122
FCR 2.39 2.38 2.37
Carcass weight, kg 89.6 92.4 93.6 
Lean meat, % 59.9 60.8 60.5 

*: gram digestible crude protein per feed unit swine/gram digestible lysine per feed unit swine

The results show that the increased feed intake in the finishing period positively affected the feed conversion. However, we cannot conclude that increased feed intake improves feed conversion because the protein content also increased. On the other hand, the results are thought-provoking as they are not in line with the expectations. In the webinar, the presenter suggested that genetic progress maybe is part of the explanation. The increased daily weight gain also reduces the pig´s need for maintenance energy. The results are also a clear example of the classical limitations of farm trials. Because there is no control group and the farm cannot handle more than one treatment group, it is impossible to explain precisely why the pig performance improved. Nevertheless, the results from this farm trial emphasise how important it is for swine producers to test different feeding strategies and feeding compositions to get an idea of how the pigs perform under other circumstances.

Adaptation to feed and pork prices

The two examples above clearly show a high risk of jeopardising the financial result if the swine producer continues with the same feed composition and feeding strategy when feed and pork prices change. For this reason, it is highly recommendable to simulate the consequences of variation in feed and pork prices on the financial results.