April 2014: Volatility encourages a look at home-mixing

This is turning out to be an interesting year. Despite the supply of cereals and soya exceeding demand (according to the USDA), we have issues with availability and subsequent increases in commodity prices.

The textbook relationship between supply and demand, that says if global supply exceeds demand then prices should come down, is therefore skewed because of socio-economic, political and logistical problems. And there’s little we can do to avoid it.

This volatility in raw materials is leading many producers to examine ways they can buffer themselves against fluctuating markets. Home-mixing diets, or at least a proportion of them, is one option for cereal producers.

If a home-mix system is already on the farm, then it’s a fairly easy decision. Moving grain from store to the mill is relatively cheap and converting it to saleable pigmeat is a logical solution to meet the best part of 80% of the pig’s dietary needs.

An on-farm mill is not essential, however. Home mixing can work through one of the many mobile mill/mix operations that are operating in the UK. Their state-of-the-art machines can convert cereal into feed efficiently and cost-effectively.

Home mixing has its advantages. The producer has total control of the diet and subsequent costs involved. However, there are one or two “buts”. There’s additional work involved, and the complexity to the system has to be factored in as well.

Producers thinking about home-mixing also need to be sure they can maintain a good “pantry” of stocks. Maintaining the right amount of all the required ingredients is an additional burden, and auditable records need to be kept and mixer efficiency – for those with their own mill – needs to be regularly tested. Hoppers need regular adjustment and wastage can be an issue.

Home-mix operators will generally not have access to the full portfolio of raw materials that a compound manufacturer can use. Products such as rapeseed extract, wheat feed and biscuit meal are standard items in compound feeds and these offer price advantages, but they’re not generally available to home mixers as they add complexity to the diet and storage may be an issue.

Many regional and some national compound mills are also willing to work with producers and nutritionists to create bespoke fixed-formulation rations for specific and/or unusual cases that will deliver a predictable response. The ease of ordering, delivery and competitive pricing make compound feeds an attractive way of catering for the nutritional needs of the pig, and allows the producer time for the other jobs on the farm.

So there are pros and cons to the various feeding options that need careful consideration in terms of cost, resource and time. This is a good year to take a look at the options and weigh up home-mixing, but future plans and changes should be supported with accurate costings and careful planning.

> 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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