It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that at $7 per bushel corn, hog farmers are going to look for alternatives to feeding all corn and soybean meal to hogs. One of the by-products that both beef and hog farmers are utilizing if there is a plant close by are the dried distillers grains left behind after ethanol is produced. For some ethanol plants they claim that this is their profit margin—making the ethanol itself is close to a wash.
Pork producers who hadn't tried DDGS before are trying them this winter if they have access, just to hold down feed cost. The product for hogs is dried. However, some hog men still report problems with clumping in feeders and other feeding issues that must be resolved before they're going to be big users of this by product.
The other factor, notes Brian Richert, swine nutritionist in the Purdue University Animal Sciences Department, is that if DDGS are fed at too high a level, they can affect the quality or pork produced. Hogs fed very high levels all the way to slaughter tend to have soft fat. Bacon is soggy without integrity, fries up more in the skillet due to the extra fat content, and is less desirable.
One problem that might not even seem obvious at first is that in pigs fed high levels of DDG grains instead of corn, the outer backfat layer also tends to separate from the loin once the carcass is cut into the final pork chop product. It's an undesirable trait, especially for foreign markets such as Japan where people want the fat still attached to the meat when they buy it.
Richert's goal in his research is to determine how high you can go and avoid these problems, he says. It appears that the limit on growing pigs is somewhere around 30 to 40% of the diet. However, farmers who are cautious are lowering that amount of DDGS allowed in the rations to 20%.
The other catch is that if pigs are completely removed from the DDGS diet for a period before slaughter, or if it is restricted, can the pig repair the change to the meat and still produce a normal factor? That's one thing Richert is trying to discover in his work with lab pigs and with students.
"The complicating factor is about the time you would pull out the DDGS, many farmers add Pay Lean which affects how much energy goes to fat and how much to muscle. More is directed to muscle. So if the balance was already affected, it may be difficult to correct it in the carcass.
Richert intends to continue his work, looking at the limits of intake of this byproduct that allow producers to save money on inputs compared to expensive corn, but which don't produce an inferior product. Some packing plants are already issuing guidelines as to how much of this can be fed and at what times.