Kansas State and Iowa State University researchers are working on research that could improve swine diets, a science so exact that even a 1% improvement in feeding efficiency can translate into $100 million of added profit to the industry.
Mike Tokach, Kansas State University distinguished professor of animal sciences and industry, says the goal of the research is to reduce costs for farmers, which also reduces the cost to consumers for pork.
"The other very important part of our research is the environmental side," he added. "Anything we do to improve feed efficiency reduces the output of nitrogen and phosphorus from that farm."
Based on results from a 2012 survey of more than 200 U.S. swine producers, the two universities developed 13 fact sheets that provide specific direction on how producers can improve feeding efficiency on their farm. The topics include genetics, particle size, pelleting, temperature, market weights, amino acids and more. The materials are available at swinefeedefficiency.com.
One sheet includes a decision tool that producers can use to measure their current practices against research-tested methods.
"Producers can use that to troubleshoot their operation; if their efficiency is not where they want it to be, they go through the decision tree to see what areas they can check out," Tokach said. "Or, they can plug in things they're currently doing into a feed efficiency model on the website that tells them it's good enough, or maybe they should change temperature in the barn, change diets, or change the way their feed is processed."
Since the 2012 survey, the researchers have conducted field trials with farmers in Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.
"Each project was done with different production systems to give the data more credence since it was done in many locations and in the field," Tokach said. "Each project explored a different area that influences feed efficiency, such as the level of dried distiller grains, feed particle size, pelleting or sow feed usage."
Also in the field trials, Iowa State University researchers focused on genetic selection as a factor of feed efficiency. Their work led to a genetic line selected for improved feed utilization.
The $5 million project is funded through 2017 by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.