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The Certainty of Uncertainty: Are Technologies to Improve ADG and FE Worth It?

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The fourth quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017 look to be economically challenging for the US pork industry and the adage of “make hay when the sun shines” certainly comes to mind. Times of high hog prices make it relatively easy to determine when the sun is shining on the pork industry. Conversely, using tools such as the Hubbard Crush App can help when it’s not as clear. Today, in our current situation, dealing with both cloudy and sunny economic weather, we need to assess not only the feeding strategies of pigs on feed that will be sold well below breakeven but also those upcoming groups of weaners/feeders placed that will soon be placed on feed and marketed in the more profitable summer months. Between now and next summer a lot is going to change, a new administration, VFD enactment, potential mycotoxin concerns and hopefully an additional 12 +/- million annual hog slaughter capacity. 
So, should your feeding program changes be based upon market conditions? The answer, as always, is “it depends”. On what you ask? Consider these factors:
  1. Some farms may be partially or fully hedged, or may have a “speculative” position in which only grain(s) are bought or hogs are sold.
  2. Some farms may opt to venture into non-antibiotic feeding rather than navigate VFD regulations.
  3. Pig health (enteric and/or respiratory challenges).
  4. Swine marketing, fully open to fully contracted, contracted based on what, cash and/or cut-out?  
  5. Target market weight based on a fixed time or fixed weight production system.
  6. A true picture of “heavies” and “lights” being marketed.
Once all the factors are identified and understood, then an assessment of feeding strategies can accurately take place and the challenging task begins. There are a wide variety of adjustments that can be made to a feeding program ranging from changes in lysine and energy levels to the use of by-products and consideration of the appropriate levels of use. The addition or removal of feed additives aimed to improve health, gain or efficiency of gain must also be considered. In a well-formulated nutrition program, all ingredients/technologies are incorporated for valid reasons, so the elimination or modification of an ingredient/nutrient will have unfavorable impacts on performance reduction. The degree of the current or future economics dictates the cost efficacy of the program change. 
Once a modification has been made to a nutrition program it is important to remember that things change. For example, this December when hog markets are projected to be at a low, there are wean groups being placed on feed that will be marketed in profitable months of May and June, 2017.  A feeding program that was designed to minimize losses for December pigs now may be changed to maximize returns for June pigs.
The moral of this story is that a constant and clear line of communication is needed between all facets of production, business management and your nutrition supplier to assure that your nutrition program is primed “to make hay” when the summer sun is shining.