Feed Conversion: An Objective Measure of Success

( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

By Matt Murphy, Director of Technical Operations at The Maschhoffs

Pork production is an act of nobility, passion and care; and, it is intended to generate profits for the producer. Profit, or revenue less cost, is an optimization – how much more product can you generate with fewer inputs before reaching the point of diminished return? In pork production, nutrition inputs account for nearly 70% of this equation. Because of this, the measure of FCR (feed conversion ratio) is important to any producer. 

I’m a firm believer in the management adage, “you cannot manage what you don’t measure.” This methodology assumes diligent execution on two fronts – measurement and management. First, it is important to measure. For FCR, accurate measures of weight at weaning, feeder transfer and harvest are critical as well as accurate measures of feed consumption. Sound benchmarking is necessary, too, in order to understand your performance relative to the balance of your peers in the industry. 

At The Maschhoffs, we leverage rigorous, internal managerial and production accounting methods alongside industry benchmarking services to ensure we remain in the top quartile of the industry for FCR. But measurement, in terms of internal accuracy and external benchmarking, is only an expression of the outcome of management. In my mind, there is no better measure of production management than feed conversion. 

Input Potential Is Set
The amount of feed required to produce a pound of pork presents us with a comprehensive understanding of the efficiency of the production system. And, like any good measure of efficiency, the outcome is dependent on many things. Feed conversion is measured on the nursery and grow-finish floor, but some of the strongest contributing factors are delivered to the producer: genetics and nutrition. Beyond these dynamics, animal health and management are critical.

Given its ability to boost the profitability of any given operation, FCR is a major focus of genetic suppliers as it creates a strong marketing advantage. As such, contributing factors to feed conversion can make up more than half of a genetic selection index. Considering that the genetics of the growing pig establish the potential, or “set the bar,” for FCR, this is a strong place to start in consideration of improvements. At The Maschhoffs, we leverage our internal genetic supplier, in conjunction with external suppliers, to ensure that appropriate focus is applied to feed conversion and our competitive advantage is maintained. 

The amount of energy in each pound of feed makes a critical contribution to feed conversion. The blend of feedstuffs and the way they are processed (particle size, pelleting, etc.) will yield varying results in FCR. Carefully consider the cost of feedstuff inputs, feedstuff processing methods and their relative impact to feed conversation to manage a profitable operation.

Focus on the Controllable
Now that appropriate decisions have been made in terms of genetics and feedstuff inclusion, the bar has been set. From this point, the caretaker of the growing pig creates opportunity cost. How much of the delivered value can he/she preserve? Since producers are attempting to convert energy (in the form of feed) into pounds of pork, feed conversion in the growing pig is about energy management. Any amount of energy needed to support immune responses to health challenges, to maintain thermal equilibrium or to manage any other source of stress diminishes the pig’s ability to convert that energy into meat protein. 

In very general terms, stress must be managed. Does the pig have adequate access to feed and water, but not so much so that there is spoilage or wastage? Is the health of the pig maintained at the highest level possible in terms of both epidemic and endemic stressors? Does the animal’s environment consistently align with its basic physiological needs throughout the growth cycle? Each of these questions apply to a specific area of opportunity to either preserve or degrade the potential of the animal to convert feed into pork. And, as such, each of these must be properly managed in order to facilitate competitive feed conversion. 

The American pork producer generates a healthy source of protein with the greatest cost-efficiency in the world. There is no doubt that our ability to manage to a competitive FCR is a leading contributor to that advantage. Continuing to manage, measure and incrementally improve our cost position through a diligent focus on feed conversion will undoubtedly help us maintain this advantage in the global market. 

Matt Murphy is the Director of Technical Operations at The Maschhoffs. In his role, he oversees a number of farms that collect data, which supports research and development and genetic improvement objectives. This includes performance test centers, where their boar lines are evaluated, and the commercial test herd, where their genetic lines are evaluated in real-world conditions and connected to packer performance. He lives in Highland with his wife Meredith and their two children.

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