DRAMATIC increases in propane costs have many pork producers wondering if it's more profitable to turn down the thermostat and increase available feed. This can be particularly true for early-weaned pigs, which have the highest temperature requirement of all pigs.
"Typically, when we hear the phrase 'food versus fuel,' it's in regards to ethanol production. However, with the recent increase in propane costs, the same could be said for pork production," said Bob Thaler, South Dakota State University (SDSU) extension professor and swine specialist. "The pig is incredibly adaptive to its environment and can compensate for changes in thermal environment by a variety of ways, the biggest probably being changes in feed intake."
Thaler showed how a pig's feed intake is directly related to the temperature of the pig's environment (Figure). He explained that as the temperature decreases, a pig will eat more feed in order to generate more body heat to stay warm.
"As long as gut fill isn't an issue, daily gains should be normal, but feed efficiency will suffer because the extra pounds of feed are going into heat production and not into body growth," he said.
Basically, Thaler said the choice comes down to whether the extra calories from feed are cheaper than the cost of the propane needed to keep the pig in its thermal neutral zone. With corn at $4/bu., soybean meal at $450 per ton and propane close to $4/gal., utilizing more feed calories is something he said producers should at least consider.
A collaborative trial done by SDSU, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska and the University of Missouri-Columbia looked at the effects of reducing the nocturnal room temperature for early-weaned pigs (17-21 days) in colder months.
For the first week postweaning, two rooms were kept at identical temperatures. However, one week after weaning, the temperature in the reduced nocturnal temperature (RNT) room was dropped 10 degrees F lower than the control room between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and then was returned to control temperatures from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Pig performance and utility usage were measured throughout the trial. There were no differences in pig gain, feed intake or feed efficiency for the 28-day period, but heating fuel use (Btu per pig) was reduced by 17.4%, and kilowatt hours per pig were reduced by 10.7% for the pigs in the RNT treatment.
Using a heating fuel price of $5/gal. and 8 cents/kWh equated to a savings of $2.90 per pig in heating fuel and 5 cents per pig in electricity, resulting in a total savings of $2.95 per pig in utility costs without affecting pig performance.
Typically, room temperatures for early-weaned pigs start at approximately 85 degrees F and then decrease to 72 degrees F throughout the four- to six-week nursery period, so there's a good opportunity for savings.
The other area where temperature reductions could work is in gestation barns, Thaler explained.
"Sows are limit-fed during gestation to maintain proper body condition, so dropping the thermostat slightly should not hurt sow performance as long as there is an increase in feed offered to the sows," he said.
Thaler referenced work conducted by Verstegen and Curtis in the late 1980s that demonstrated that decreasing room temperature by 4 degrees F below thermoneutral conditions will require approximately an extra half-pound of feed per sow per day. With gestation feed priced at $200 per ton, that would be an increase in feed costs of 5 cents per sow per day.
"Producers would then need to balance that cost against the propane savings in their individual barns. Management also plays a role in this decision. To properly adjust all of the feed drop boxes takes time, so that is an additional cost that also needs to be considered in the equation," Thaler said.
In general, he said it would probably make more sense to adjust feeding levels in November at the onset of cold weather rather than at the end of February, when going into a period of warmer weather for gestating sows.
"Higher propane costs do present a challenge to pork producers, but there are things producers can do to compensate for it," he said.
Thaler added that management tools like reducing the nursery room temperature at night will not affect pig performance but can save producers almost $3 per pig in utility costs.
Going into an extended cold period, producers should also weigh the costs and benefits of lowering gestation barn temperatures while increasing the feeding level.
Feral hog app
A new app developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service was recently released to help landowners learn the legal strategies available to impede an apparently unending flow of unwanted porcine invaders known as feral hogs.
"Feral hogs are fast becoming the number-one, single-most destructive invasive species threatening agriculture and wildlife in the U.S.," said Mark Tyson, Texas AgriLife Extension wildlife and fisheries associate at College Station, Texas. "They contribute to poor water quality issues, disturb native ecosystems and wreak havoc on landscapes and gardens. Their growing numbers are now making them a menace on our roadways, with collision damage often exceeding several thousands of dollars per incident.
"Even as they become 'public enemy number one,' their population relentlessly continues to explode," he added. "In Texas alone, their numbers are now estimated at a conservative 2.6 million head, with $52 million in damages chalked up to them annually. With an estimated 134 million acres of suitable habitat in Texas for feral hogs, their skyrocketing numbers are ripe for some major expansion."
Tyson said the AgriLife Extension app, Feral Hog Management, can be purchased for 99 cents in the Apple iTunes app store and provides landowners with access to the best information now available on various control measures.
"This app ... gathers years of science-based information and field experience from a host of sources into a single, easy-to-use format right at your fingertips," Tyson said.
"The app provides valuable features, notably control methods like snare-building and strategic shooting, as well as bait recipes and trap design," he added, noting that the visuals show detailed examples of the management practices outlined.
He emphasized that using this app, "a landowner could conceivably identify, plan and implement a highly effective feral hog management plan to rid his property of feral hogs and, with vigilance, keep it hog free."
Animal welfare excellence
Belstra Milling Co. in DeMotte, Ind., was recently honored with the Indiana Veterinary Medical Assn.'s (IVMA) "One Welfare" recognition award.
The award pays tribute to an Indiana resident or company that promotes the advancement of animal welfare issues through outstanding service, education or research or provides exemplary care to agricultural animals and/or has significantly improved the welfare of agricultural animals in the state.
According to IVMA, Belstra is a prime example of a company that not only works to serve the local area and state but also strives to represent the swine industry in a positive light.
"They not only provide exemplary care to their pigs, but they are constantly dedicated to educating fellow farmers, consumers and the general public about modern pork production in the state of Indiana and the U.S.," IVMA noted. "As an example of this dedication to education (about) animal agriculture, they have designed Legacy Farms located at the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure, a part of the Fair Oaks Farms. The site has been built to allow the average citizen to tour a real, working swine operation."