Brumm Speaks Out: We still have a lot to learn about how pigs eat

In reviewing some of the research on eating behavior in the past few weeks, the impact of sex (barrow versus gilt) came up. We know that barrows eat more than gilts, generally beginning around 70-80 lb. This difference in intake (with minimal differences in daily lean gain) is why barrow diets are most often formulated to have lower nutrient densities than gilt diets.

Dr Tami Brown-Brandl at the USDA Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., published an interesting paper a few years ago examining the eating behaviors of pigs in group housing situations. In pens of 35-40 pigs with a 5 hole feeder (7-8 pigs/hole) using RFID ear tags she was able to log the amount of time individual pigs spent at the feeder every day.

Beginning at approximately 9 weeks post-wean, barrows started to spend more minutes per day at the feeder than gilts in the same pen. This suggests that the rate of ingestion is similar for both sexes so the barrows have to spend more time at the feeder to consume higher amounts of feed daily.

Both sexes plateaued in time at the feeder around 90 days post-wean with barrows spending 14 minutes more per day at the feeder than gilts (85 vs 71 min/pig/d). The plateau for both suggests that the rate of ingestion was now increasing in a similar manner for both sexes since both had to eat faster if the time at the feeder didn't change but total daily feed increased as the pigs grew.

These results raise a lot of questions. For instance, is the plateau that Dr. Brown-Brandl observed a biological limit (i.e. the pig will only spend so much time at a feeder regardless of the amount of access provided) or a limit because of the pen dynamics and feeder used? Because barrows spent more time at the feeder than gilts, do we need to provide more feeder spaces in barrow pens?

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