4 lessons learned as a swine nutritionist during COVID-19

Remember these lessons and apply them going forward.


By Trey A. Kellner, Ph.D., AMVC Nutritional Services Swine Nutritionist

via National Hog Farmer - Jun 30, 2020


On the left side of my desk is a running log of all the feeding program changes made in the past three months in response to the logistical complications caused by COVID-19. Under that running log is the stack of all the production flow changes, performance and financial projections, and diet sets created in the past three months.


As I look at that foot-high stack of material and attempt to process all that has occurred within our system and beyond since early March, it is clear to me that I have learned just as much in the past three months as I did in my first three years in this role.


Thus, to build off the last column "Lessons learned as a production system's first nutritionist," this column will pass on the four biggest lessons learned over the past three months from working as a swine nutritionist during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Lesson 1: Trust your knowledge basis and scientific foundation


Over the past three months, swine nutritionists have been forced to create feeding programs to limit weight gain in late-stage finishing pigs that were unable to be marketed. Basically, we had to unlearn everything our profession has discovered about maximizing weight gain over the past century. I was never asked through the course of all my graduate school classes, tests, preliminary exams or defenses, "How would you best feed finishing pigs to achieve a lower market weight, regardless of feed cost economics?" Despite not being asked that direct question, my graduate training provided me a strong foundation on how best to feed pigs for this unique scenario.


In graduate school, I had formulated fat-free and nitrogen-free diets that were fed for extended periods of time to determine endogenous losses through the digestive tract. I had formulated and fed diets that were composed of nearly 99% of a certain ingredient to determine its digestibility. These experiences provided me not only average daily gain and feed efficiency data to use in performance and economic projections, but the confidence and reassurance that feeding a low-nutrient density diet would not result in a large occurrence of vices or mortalities.


Furthermore, we have peer-reviewed information on the maintenance requirements for each stage of production, what amino acid ratios should be when dried distillers grain with solubles are not available, what is the minimum amount of crude protein that can be fed, data on maintaining gilt weights for breeding projects, etc. While we wish we had more and or updated data in each of these areas to apply to our feeding programs, we did not have to start from scratch or fill too many holes in our understanding of how the pigs would react and perform when fed these unique feeding programs.


During our implementation of these feeding programs we also had academic and industry research efforts occurring concurrently to validate our growth and economic projections. These difficult times have truly proven how valuable our academic and allied industry partners are to swine nutrition/production and that these research efforts must continue to be supported.


Instead of hesitating to implement lower SID lysine/net energy or a 98% corn feeding program, I trusted published data and my scientific experiences to formulate diets and create predictable outcomes. This allowed our system and customers to navigate the space and financial difficulties more successfully.


Who knows what may be thrown at us next in our careers in the swine industry? However, when the next challenge arises, COVID-19 was a great reminder that we have data and experiences to aid our industry through it.


Lesson 2: Play offense with your thought process and communication ...


Lesson 3: React and adapt to market changes promptly, but don't overreact either ... 


Lesson 4: Find ways to get away from the stress and think ...