2012 Price of Hog Feed

February 6, 2012

I did some figurin’ on hog feed prices.  I like to do this every year.  The current prices I’m using include: corn $.10/lb, soybean meal $.17/lb, pig premix $.40/lb, sow premix $.49/lb.  This is using $5.60 per bushel corn and $340/ton soybean meal.

I put 150 lbs. of sow premix in every ton of sow feed and 100 lbs. of pig premix in every ton of pig feed.

The sow gestation ration uses 250 lbs of soybean meal per ton.  The sow lactation ration uses 540 lbs of soybean meal per ton.  So if you do all the math, gestation ration is $.14/lb and lactation ration is $.15/lb.

The pig rations use anywhere from 250 lbs of soybean meal per ton for the largest pigs to 600 lbs of soybean meal per ton for the smallest pigs.  I adjust the amount of soybean meal based on my feed budget and the size of the pigs.

After all the math, the cheapest ration for the largest pigs is $.12/lb and the most expensive ration for the smallest pigs is $.15/lb, with the in between rations falling in between.

There are more expensive rations for smaller pigs, but with my new farrowing system I plan to let the piglets nurse longer, thereby eliminating the need for the more expensive starter pig diets.

These rations are near the historical highs, but not quite as high as last year.  I think these prices are the new normal and we will learn to live with them.

I plan on experimenting with more grazing and feeding forages and alternative feedstuffs this year.  I’ll have feed and production records to analyze next year at this time.

Farrowing in Hoop Building in January

January 22, 2012

Splitting up farming with my parents means I needed to find a different way to farrow.  We used a combination of crates and pens in a heated farrowing barn on my parents’ farm.  It worked well.  Last year we average 10 piglets born alive and 9 piglets weaned per litter.

I was excited to try farrowing in pens, because it’s a new challenge, and because I don’t like crates.  Crates do save piglets from crushing, however, so the question is, can I raise enough piglets this way to be economically viable?

Pictured above, I built ten farrowing pens in one of my hoop buildings so each sow and litter could farrow in privacy.  I used a combination of round bales of bedding and wire panels.  I used the bedding bales to make the pens larger, and to have dry bedding accessible at all times.

I didn’t think it would work very well to farrow in an unheated barn in January.  But I didn’t have many due to farrow, so I thought I would try it, so I could learn.

The first gilt farrowed two weeks ago when the temperature was in the 20’s.  The air temperature in the hoop building is about ten degrees warmer than outside.  She and the piglets did fine.  She had eleven born alive and one stillborn.  You can see the dead stillborn piglet mixed in with the placenta in the picture below.  The gilt laid on four piglets during the first 48 hours.  The younger the piglets are, the more vulnerable they are to crushing.  The remaining seven piglets are doing well.

The next two gilts farrowed during an extremely cold time.  Temps were around zero F with below zero wind chills.  Those piglets didn’t do well.  18 out of 20 piglets froze or were crushed in the first few days.

Two more gilts farrowed last night.  Temps are in the 30’s.  They are doing well.

Pictured below is a behavioral trait I want to select for genetically.  Instead of just flopping down and crushing piglets, the gilt scoops out a bowl in the straw with her snout, kneels on her front legs, thereby extending her udder all the way down into the straw, then lies down.  Very few piglets will be crushed this way.

Best Laid Plans

June 14, 2011

We built a small corral at the intersection of four pastures.  It’s way out back, and we never had a good way to catch a cow that needed help out there.

I checked the cows late one afternoon.  A cow was trying to calve, and looked like she had been straining for awhile, but nothing was showing.  We gave her an hour and checked her again.  Sure enough, one foot was sticking out, but not the other one.

We decided to get her in.  We were excited to use our new corral.  Two ATVs, a jeep, low-stress stockmanship, and we had her in the corral, barely.  She was starting to get hot.  She circled the corral a few times, charged at the gate I was standing by, put her nose over the top board, and jumped and pushed.  Once the board broke, her body weight broke down the wire panel, and she was over and out.

“Well, she’s on her own now.  No sense getting killed over her.”

The next morning, Dad drove back from checking the cows.

“Is she dead?”

“No, and she’s got a live calf, runnin’ around healthy.”

“Do you think we were just too early?”

“No, I think the calf got straightened out when she jumped the fence.”

Dad smiled.

New Manure Spreader

April 8, 2011

We purchased a new manure spreader from Studer Super Service.  It’s a Kuhn/Knight Slinger 8114. It’s basically the newer model of our twenty-year-old spreader we junked this winter.  I want this one to last twenty years.  We paid $14,500 for it.

The auger on the right moves the material backwards as the auger on the left moves the material frontwards and to the side-unloading door.  The beaters, pictured below, sling the manure into the field.

I’m excited to use it.  We have two hoop buildings to clean out, and several hay feeding areas.  I want to cover the corn fields with a light layer of manure before corn planting.  April is going to turn into May, fast.

February 2011 Price of Hog Feed

February 15, 2011

Historically high, and going up!  Karen asked what the price of soybeans is, and that got me to thinking, I haven’t calculated the price of hog feed lately.  I sat down and did some figurin’, and was shocked at the price.

Our basic hog feed mix is corn, soybean meal, and a vitamin/mineral/amino acid premix.  Corn is $7.17 for a 56 lb. bushel.  Soybeans are $14.16 for a 60 lb. bushel.  Dividing the cost by the lbs. gives us the price per lb.  Corn is $.128/lb., and soybeans is $.236/lb.

We buy soybean meal, which is soybeans with the oil removed and sold.  Our last bill for soybean meal was $.20/lb.  Our premix is around $.40/lb.  And we will use the $.128 market price for corn.

What is the breakdown of our hog feed?  80% is corn, 16.5% is soybean meal, and 3.5% is premix.  Let’s figure out what 100 lbs. of feed costs.

80 lbs. of corn multiplied by $.125 equals $10.24.  16.5 lbs. of soybean meal multiplied by $.20 equals $3.30.  3.5 lbs. of premix multiplied by $.40 equals $1.40.  Adding the three together totals $14.94 per 100 lbs.  So that gives us a price of almost $.15 per lb.

Our whole herd feed conversion is 4.  This means that it takes 4 lbs. of hog feed to produce 1 lb. of pork.  So if we multiply 4 lbs. times the $.15/lb gives us the cost of feed to produce 1 lb. of pork, $.60/lb.!!!!! I remember when the whole herd feed cost was $.30/lb., and all costs were $.40/lb.

The commodity hog  market price is around $.60/lb.  We used to think we were making great money at $.60/lb.  Now…?

Don’t cry for Curiousfarmer,  it’s not as bad as it seems.  While we buy the soybean meal and premix, and these are the actual prices we are paying, we grow our own corn, so it costs us whatever it costs us to grow it.  The $7.17 per bushel is  the opportunity cost to feed corn to hogs.  I haven’t figured lately, what it actually costs us to grow corn, but it’s probably less than half of the $7.17 market price.

So why are we still raising hogs, when it’s a break-even business this year?  Consistency.  Pa always said, “farmers who jump in and out of things never catch up.”  We feel it’s better to choose what we do, and work to do it well.  We make major changes based on our needs, and the longer-term fundamentals.

That doesn’t mean we won’t modify our operation.  We are selling all of our less productive sows and our older boars.  We will still have plenty of pork for our direct-market customers, but we won’t have as many hogs to sell on the commodity market.

Longer-term, what are these markets going to do?  How long will it take for the livestock markets to catch up to the grain markets, so  livestock farmers can make some money?  How much will food prices increase?

Thank you Karen, for a great question, which led to more questions.

Versatile Hoop Buildings

September 25, 2010

Hogs in a hoop building.  This is the typical and intended use of the hoop buildings on our farm.

Hoop buildings are a single-arch structure covered with a tarp-like material that is stronger than a typical greenhouse.  They are an economical and efficient way to raise hogs.

Another draw is their versatility.  They make great storage for machinery, hay, or even grains.

We had an excellent oat crop this year and needed to make room for corn in our bins.  We put a tarp down to keep the ground underneath dry, then we augered the oats into the building.

I like how the stream of oats undulates, as it falls.  Below is a picture of the mountain of oats after we finished.

Building a New Fence III

June 1, 2010

This is the final fencing post.

A metal rod is pounded into the ground and an old disc blade is placed on the ground to protect the soil.  The roll of barb-wire is placed on the disc and one end of the wire is tied to the ATV.  I use the ATV to pull the wire to the other end of the fence and tie it to the end post.

After your first wire is in place as a guide wire, pound the rest of your posts into the ground.  We use a ratio of five metal to one wooden.  Metal posts are cheaper and don’t rot; but wooden posts are stronger and resist cattle pushing on the fence better.

A fence-stretcher is attached to the wire.  As Dad cranks the handle, I make sure the wire is not caught on any brush and is in line with the fence.  I use a pliers because if the fence-stretcher slips off, the wire will slip quickly and cut through your hand.

Once the proper tightness is achieved, the wire is tied to the end post and the fence-stretcher is removed.

A clip is used to secure the wire to the steel post.  There are notches on the post and we use these as markers to make sure the wires are evenly spaced.

Staples are used to secure the wire to the wooden posts.

This concludes my fencing posts.  If you have any questions, please comment.

Building a New Fence II

May 25, 2010

Brace posts with metal brace and brace wire running diagonally from upper second post to lower end post.  Once you’ve decided where to put your fence, put your brace posts in.  You need a set of brace posts on each end of your fence in order to pull the barb-wire tight. 

You can also have more, based on your needs.  We put six sets of brace posts in this quarter mile of fence because we put a space for a gate, and had to fence across two valleys. 

We use six-inch diameter, eight-foot long, creosote-treated posts and pound them into the ground about three feet for our brace posts.  The posts in the interior of the fence are five-inch diameter, seven-foot long creosote-treated posts.  We have found no other wood treatment comes close to creosote for preserving wood from rotting.  It is frustrating to build a new fence and watch the wooden posts rot off in ten or fifteen years.

The metal brace is secured to the posts with a lag-bolt.  We put our brace in level, about two-thirds up the posts.  Many people are putting the brace at the top.  The old-fashioned way is to put the brace at an angle.  This has the tendency to pull one of the brace  posts out of the ground, though.

The brace wire is run through a staple at the top of the second post, around the posts, and through a staple at the bottom of the end post.  After it is tied, I use the handle of a fencing pliers to wind it, thereby tightening it.  This pulls the two posts together against the brace, making an excellent anchor to stretch barb-wire for your fence.

Building a New Fence

May 11, 2010

I’m finally getting around to posting the photos and writing about making our new fence.  We made the fence the week after my post, “Tearing Out Fence.”

This is a quarter mile of fence.  Pictured above is the post pounder on the front of our tractor.  It is a machine that pounds posts into the soft ground without the need for digging a hole.  It saves a lot of time.  We purchased it new for $2,000 a couple of years ago.  It replaced the one we had used the previous thirty years.

Most of the materials needed to build the fence are pictured below.  We used 100 steel posts, 15 5×7 wooden posts, 12 6×8 wooden posts, 6 ten’ steel braces, 1 roll of brace wire, 5 rolls of barb-wire, staples, and clips.

The costs for the materials are as follows.

100 steel posts @ $3.95 each, equals $395.

15 5×7 wooden posts @$12 each, equals $180.

12 6×8 wooden posts @$18 each, equals $216.

6 ten’ steel braces @$14.99 each, equals $90.

1 roll of brace wire @$10.99 each, equals $11.

5 rolls of barb-wire @$64.95 each, equals $325.

Clips are included with the purchase of the steel posts and staples are relatively cheap. 

So the grand total is $1217.  Multiplied times four equals the cost per mile, $4868.  Not a cheap fence, but we expect it to last thirty years. 

Will I be around to build its replacement?  Who will I be working with?

Following posts will go into more fence-building detail with pictures and explanations.

After and before pictures.

Katie Couric Investigates Antibiotic Use in Livestock

February 11, 2010

I watched Katie Couric infuriate the US livestock industry over the past two days.  She reported on sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock and the “superbugs” that may develop as a result.  It was a fair report.

A little background to catch you up to speed.  The US livestock industry routinely uses a low level of antibiotics in the feed or water of birds and animals to promote growth.  This is what is meant by the term sub-therapeutic, or growth-promoting.

One of the problems with this strategy is the possible development of “superbugs”, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  I don’t know if this has been proven, but it seems plausible.

We gave this some thought on our farm and discontinued sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics years ago.  We aren’t organic, however, and we do reserve the ability to use antibiotics to treat disease.

And this makes sense to us, because, after all, this is how most people use antibiotics in their own life, (hand sanitizers excluded).

And this is a paradox many animal rights people don’t understand, but most livestock farmers enjoy raising animals and don’t want to watch them suffer from disease if there is a treatment available.

Katie Couric profiled the Danish swine industry which banned sub-therapeutic antibiotics years ago.  Contrary to predictions of the industry’s demise, the Dutch pig producers learned how to raise hogs without this crutch and their industry has even expanded since the ban.

Banning sub-therapeutic antibiotics is not without a cost, though.  The cost to raise a pound of pork increased five cents per pound.  This sounds about right.

And that’s why I’m not knocking hog farmers who choose to use sub-therapeutic antibiotics.  Five cents per pound over several years can make or break a hog farm; and it is an acceptable and legal practice in the US.

But sub-therapeutic antibiotics are not necessary and it gives the livestock industry bad press.  I wish we could come to a consensus as an industry and eliminate the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics while still reserving the ability to use antibiotics to treat disease.  But of course I’m biased because that’s the protocol for my farm.

What do you think?  Do you see the difference between antibiotics used to treat disease and sub-therapeutic antibiotics to promote growth?  Do you pay more for antibiotic-free meat?  Do you seek out the lowest-priced meat?  What is important to you?  Why?