Improve Profitability, Control Sow Feed Intake

( Jennifer Shike )

Pig farmers are always looking for ways to do more with less to stay profitable. If you want to be profitable, some experts say you should start with the lactating sow.  

When feed intake is boosted during lactation, sows recover faster, produce more milk and wean heavier piglets, explains Chiel van Lenthe, product manager at Nedap Livestock Management. That’s one reason automatic feeding systems have become so popular.  

“Automated feeding systems eliminate stress that can cause abortions and reduce labor costs,” explains Marcia Shannon, swine Extension specialist at the University of Missouri. “Sows like to be fed at the same time – even a 10-to-15-minute delay in feeding can cause stress.”

Here are three ways sow health and pig performance can be improved through automated feeding.

1. Optimize sow body condition.
During lactation, sows need up to three times more feed than during gestation. 

“Increasing feed intake and/or increasing nutrient concentration in the lactation diet can minimize the amount of body weight loss and maintain high milk production, which will subsequently improve reproductive performance,” Shannon says.

Automated feeding is one way to meet the increased nutritional needs of a lactating sow by controlling the frequency and volume of feed and providing on-demand feeding, van Lenthe explains. 

“By maximizing feed intake, a sow gets the energy she needs to recover from farrowing, support body condition and produce sufficient milk to feed her growing litter,” van Lenthe says.

Another benefit of optimal sow body condition is improved breed back rates. Studies have shown feeding sows several small rations throughout the day helps keep sows at optimal body condition to breed back sooner for fewer non-productive days. 

2. Improve litter size.
When sow nutritional needs are met, subsequent litter sizes can be improved, too. 

“We’ve seen operations with automated systems increase litter size by one piglet per sow per year,” van Lenthe says. “Even for a smaller operation, an increase in litter size can add up to a sizable increase in additional revenue.”

Automated feeding delivers feed at regular intervals, stimulating sow appetite and increasing feed intake — ensuring sows nutritional needs are met. 

3. Increase weaning weights.
According to van Lenthe, some operations have reported increases over 1.5 lb. in weaning weight as a result of using an automated feeding system. 

“Automated feeding systems maximize feed intake, so the sow receives optimal nutrition to produce sufficient, consistent milk,” van Lenthe says. 
Increased weaning weight has a positive influence on pig growth and feed efficiency from weaning to market. Additionally, heavier piglets are more easily bred when they reach maturity and stay bred compared to piglets with lower weaning weights. 

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