July 2013 – Reasons to be optimistic

At the time of writing, a very strange occurrence has started – the feed price is going down, while the pig price is edging up. The words ‘margin over feed’ actually start to have some financial significance, rather than being a curse of production!

Even though UK cereal production is destined to be lower than we would like, owing to the poor autumn/winter/spring weather (sure there’s another season somewhere), the quality of the grain looks set to be better than 2012. This will very quickly result in improved animal performance as the digestibility and feed value increases. With commodity prices falling and potentially improved quality of the new crop, there’s a real opportunity to push the pigs with feed trials, without unduly damaging the cash flow.

Growth rates across the UK suffered during the extended winter due to a combination of poor grain and poor environmental conditions. Add bouts of flu to the mix and there’s no surprise that most producers have seen reduced performance.  

This time last year a typical finisher ration would have cost about £230/t ex-works. Wheat was £175/t and Hipro £355/t. At the moment, with wheat at £166.50 and Hipro at £394, the same finisher feed is still £230/t as the price drops have been offset by increases in the price of soya. But the big difference is in the pig price. The DAPP was 149.45p/kg 12 months ago and is now, in mid June, 165.26p/kg.

In order to keep prices down in the current 2012/13 season, rations have been challenged by increasing poorer digestible feed ingredients. More rapeseed extract replaced soya, more wheat feed replaced barley, more biscuit and bakery co-products replaced wheat. We can learn from this. We’ve seen just how far we can challenge our diets under the least-cost-ration umbrella. Now we can use this knowledge and challenge the pigs on higher density, higher digestibility rations in order to maximise growth rates without impacting on probe measurements/values.

It’s my belief that we haven’t had the opportunity to put our high-potential genetics to the test in the 2012/13 season. The lack of quality raw materials combined with high costs and relatively low returns will, in many cases, have hampered capitalising on their extra productivity.

Remember, FCR is king. Improving the digestibility of the diet will result in a lower cost to rear the pig and increase the margin over feed. I’m sure that even if we did nothing to the rations – fixing them – the higher quality of the cereals would be reflected in improved rearing performance and the BPEX ‘average’ FCR for animals between 7-110kg will drop from 2.34 regardless. Excellent!

> Born in Essex, schooled in Suffolk and a graduate of Reading University, Dr Phil Baynes has spent his career in pig welfare and nutrition. Now based in Cheshire, he runs Baynes Nutrition and is a consultant nutritionist to Provimi.

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