Just how easy is it to reduce your monthly pig feed bill? Liz Shankland looks at the options.
Just how easy is it to reduce your monthly pig feed bill? Liz Shankland looks at the options. Two things are driving more and more people out of keeping pigs. One is the unusually heavy rain we have been experiencing over the past two winters, which is turning fields into quagmires far quicker than ever before – meaning many smallholders just haven’t got sufficient land. But the most compelling reason for people giving up is the soaring cost of feed. In just a few years, the average feed bill has rocketed from around £200 per tonne to as much as £400 per tonne in many cases. Some friends who buy just a few bags at a time say their local suppliers are charging between £10 and £12 a bag, whereas just a couple of years ago, the price was more like £6. So why has this huge price hike happened? Largely because the leading cereal producers – notably the United States and South America – have suffered their worst droughts for more than 50 years. As the UK is a major importer of cereals for use in livestock feed, there has been a massive knock-on effect in terms of cost. So what can we, as small-scale farmers, do to save money, if we don’t want to cut back on the number of pigs we keep? It’s natural to want to cut corners and find cheaper things to feed to your animals, but please remember that commercially-produced feeds have been carefully developed over many years to give your pigs the perfect balanced diet – a diet that provides them with the right balance of nutrients for a particular stage of life. It may be tempting to try and replace some – or all – of the off-the-shelf feed with alternatives, but you really have to know what you are doing. At best, you could end up providing an inadequate diet which inhibits growth and reproduction; at worst, you could end up killing your pigs. Similarly, buying ‘straights’ – bags of cereals like wheat, barley, oats, etc. – and mixing your own feed is a complicated business which depends not only on getting the balance of ingredients right, but also adding the correct vitamins and minerals. I’ll be exploring the pros and cons of doing just that in a future CS article. BACK TO BASICSOkay, first things first. Let’s stop and think about how much pigs need to eat before going on a search for cheaper feed solutions. Here are some important questions. Hands up if you say ‘yes’ to any of the following: • Do your pig carcasses turn out too fat? Would you like them just that little bit leaner? • Do you know exactly how much your food scoop holds? Do you measure or weigh rations before feeding? If the answer to the first two questions is ‘yes’, then I’m guessing your answer to the other two questions will also be ‘yes’. Overfeeding is incredibly wasteful. Yes, it’s easy to give a little bit more because it helps to keep the pigs quiet; pigs are masters at telling you they are still hungry and at making you feel guilty if you walk away without giving a top-up. You have to be tough and stick to the feeding guide given to you by the breeder you bought from or another reliable source. There will be variations between breeds and, with time, you will develop the knack of ‘feeding by eye’ – taking a look at an animal and judging whether or not the feed needs to be increased or reduced. When you’re just starting off, however, you might only know if you have got it right at the point you get your meat back. It can be sorely disappointing when your butcher tells you how much fat he has trimmed off your chops to make them look presentable. Even worse is when he shows you what it looks like in the bin! Buying in bulk Have you considered ordering your feed in bulk? There are savings to be had in buying large quantities, but suppliers tend to limit bulk orders to three tonne loads, delivered loose rather than bagged and blown into a hopper via a big hose from the delivery lorry. We built a large wooden hopper by copying the design of one on a neighbour’s farm, but you could equally have feed blown into some other secure, dry area, such as a metal storage container. But what if three tonnes is too much for your pigs’ requirements? You don’t want feed to go past its sell-by date, so what about working out a sharing system with other local pig keepers? They could buy direct from you at cost price, so everyone shares a discount. It’s definitely worth thinking about, particularly when buying in bulk can sometimes save you between £20 and £30 per tonne. Supplementing bagged feed If you’re feeding commercially-produced pellets, you might be thinking of replacing part of the ration with some other kind of foodstuff. Fruit and vegetables are popular choices and are often available from your own garden or can be collected from a local greengrocer’s shop when they are past their best. Be aware, though, that although it may look like you have an enormous amount of goodies, fruit and vegetables won’t be anything like as nutritious as standard pig pellets. As a rough guide, use the 4:1 ratio – a 4kg pile of fruit and/or veg should be considered equal to 1kg of feed (the same applies with the old imperial measurements, i.e. 4lb of fruit/veg = 1lb of pellets). The list of produce you can feed is endless. There will, of course, be some things your pigs don’t like. I’ve found that most don’t like citrus fruits or anything from the allium family (onions, garlic, shallots). However, a friend reckons that his will eat any fruit or veg he gives them – including lemons and pineapples! FOOD WASTEThis can be a confusing and complex area. Following the Foot & Mouth outbreak of 2001, it became illegal to feed anything which had passed through a kitchen, whether domestic or commercial. So, in practice, kitchen scraps are out – even seemingly innocuous things like veg peelings – because of the risk of coming into contact with meat products. You could, of course, peel your carrots in the garden and then give them to your pigs! Buying in or collecting waste products from a food supplier or manufacturer is another option. Advice on the British Pig Association website quotes DEFRA on the subject: “Milk and milk-based products and biscuits, bakery waste, pasta, chocolate, sweet and similar products containing ingredients such as rennet or melted fat, milk or eggs, which have been incorporated in those products but which are not the main ingredient, can be fed to livestock. Adequate measures must be in place to ensure against cross contamination by meat and other products of animal origin.” If you intend to feed any such products and plan to sell some of the meat from your pigs to others, you need to registered with your local authority. You also have to show that you have taken all necessary steps to ensure the products cannot become contaminated by meat, pesticides, etc.