Economics on sow operations are driven by feed efficiency, especially during times of high-priced inputs, according to Dan McManus, DVM, swine nutrition specialist for Land O'Lakes Purina Feed LLC.

As input costs continue to rise, small changes in ration formulations and management can have financial impacts. Sow feed efficiency — and the economic potential of operations — can be enhanced by paying attention to feed particle size, ration waste and herd replacement rates.

“Particle size of feeds in the diet plays a role in feed efficiency,” said McManus. “Like the finishing pig, reduced particle size allows the sow to utilize energy more efficiently in gestation and lactation.” Researchers at Kansas State University found that reducing corn particle size can improve feed intake and weaning weights.

Wasted feed directly impacts feed efficiency because it adds cost to pounds gained. “Avoid overfeeding of animals and watch for areas where feed is wasted in the gestation and farrowing barns,” McManus recommends.

In warm months, ration waste can be reduced by adjusting the diet for decreased consumption. According to McManus, in the summer ration changes may be needed to offset body weight losses in lactation that increase the wean-to-service interval. Nutrient-dense diets can provide higher nutrient levels to sows when warm temperatures may reduce consumption. “Consider adopting feed technologies that help maintain consumption,” said McManus. “Feed additives can help sows to handle heat stress without losing consumption.”

Focusing on overall sow herd health and longevity can also help increase outputs without adding to the feed bill. “Herds with a lower annual herd replacement rate have better feed efficiency because they need a smaller supply of replacement gilts in the pipeline,” said McManus. “Fewer gilts will result in a lower gilt developer feed bill."