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Advantages and disadvantages of liquid feeding for sows

This feeding system has a great return on investment, especially for the lactating sows, and even more in hot areas.

The implementation of new processes (handling, technology, redimensioning, etc.) is oriented towards increasing the efficiency. In the case of the feeding of sows, we consider the implementation of a feeding system based on technology: a mechanic system for the delivery of liquid feed controlled by a computer. In this article we review the advantages and disadvantages of this system and a calculation of its profitability is carried out.


Pregnant sows It allows us to adjust the feeding curves very easily
It guarantees a high water consumption, avoiding genitourinary problems
It allows the fine grinding of the feed, increasing the feed efficiency
Reduced environmental impact thanks to a better feed efficiency
We can give 2 or 3 meals per day. This reduces stress and the incidence of ulcers
Monitoring daily feed consumption
Lower need of workforce
Lactating sows The same previously commented in the case of the gestating sows
Increases feed intake in comparison with dry feeding (+20%, in hot periods up to +40%)
Comfort increase because the animal can eat more times (3 or 4 daily meals)
We can adjust the time at which the meal will be given (by night, outside the working hours, etc.). What is more important is that we do not break the feeding curves during the weekends, especially the weekend before the weaning, reducing in this way the sows that go in heat in the farrowing rooms and the increase of wean to estrus interval.


The high investment cost could be a problem, so it is necessary to establish a hypothesis regarding the return on investment supported by solid and cautious bases.

Among the different brands present in the market (every time there are more and they are better), we must bear in mind the quality of the mechanics and the technical service.

There is also a series of critical points that must be controlled correctly: otherwise, the losses caused may put an end to what we have obtained.


Gestation The only disadvantage is the need for qualified and responsible workers: the errors when activating or deactivating the valves are frequent, and this causes losses due to the depletion of feed or the stress on the animals caused by the lack of feed
Lactation Lack of precision regarding the volumes of feed to be given (nowadays the available systems solve this problem perfectly) (1)
Primiparous sows that do not adapt well to the feeding curve pre-established for the multiparous sows (2)
Badly dimensioned troughs that cause the depletion/loss of feed (3)
The need for qualified and responsible workers (4)
The peripartum is difficult to manage (5)
The installations “suffer” more damage than normal (6)


How to solve the main disadvantages?

  1. When dosing small amounts through the valve, especially with the restrictions associated with the peripartum, there are mistakes that turn into valves that do not give feed, and this causes stress and constipation. The volumes can be increased giving less meals (2 or 3) or increasing the dilution. The second option is preferable: in summer we can reach a dilution of up to 6:1, and in winter of 4.5:1.
  2. As a lower amount of feed is needed, if we do not pay attention the pregnant gilts will receive more feed than necessary. This causes a disastrous start of the lactation. The creation of a feeding curve for the pregnant gilts is not viable, because we would have to give them their feed at different times and make some sows wait, and this would cause great stress. The systems make noises when preparing the food, and the sows know, well ahead of time, that they are going to eat.
  3. When the soup is given, if the size and the shape of the trough are not appropriate, there are feed losses that can exceed 20%. The volume of the troughs must be almost three times that of the conventional troughs, and their shape must avoid curved bottoms, so the soup is not propelled out of the trough.
  4. The learning process for a worker is brief and easy, but some wonderful workers do not adapt due to their "fear of keyboards". The most important thing is the worker’s meticulous attention and responsibility (they must be agile and dynamic). When the degree of automation is very high, the tendency is not to be always paying attention to the system, and the most frequent problem is finding feeding levels that are below what is expected: the worker must increase, step by step, the intake taking as the reference a underdimensioned basal feeding curve in order to avoid rejection of the feed. It they do not look for the maximum consumption of feed by the sows, they will save emptying troughs. If a good management of the increase in the feeding curve is carried out, the number of troughs to be cleaned will be minimal, attaining at the same time an exceptionally good feed intake
  5. The feed restriction around the moment of the peripartum can cause constipation. This is solved by giving high amounts of water and using lactation feed formulations rich in crude fibre (5.5%) without endangering a high density of the feed. A special mix could be prepared for the peripartum, but this would cause more stress because of the feeding at different moments of the day (as in the case of item no. 2).
  6. Due to what has been said in item (2), the sleeves, troughs and pipes must have a great strength, and this causes a certain increase of the money necessary for the maintenance of the facilities.

It is essential to have a maintenance programme. It basically has to do with changing the membranes of the valves:

  • Once a year those of the animals, and twice a year those that surround the mixing mechanism and the entrances to and the exits from the building (there are enormous differences in terms of quality depending on the manufacturer).
  • Replacement impeller pumps and a replacement compressor must be available.
  • A good rodent extermination programme.

All this entails some 1,500 € per year of maintenance costs in a 500-sow farm.

The first impression regarding the system causes rejection because it seems complex, but once you get to know it, its simplicity is extreme, and the mechanics are evolving towards a great quality.


Study on the return on investment

This ‘soup’ feeding system has a great return on investment, especially for the lactating sows, and even more in hot areas. In order to calculate the return on investment we base the hypothesis solely on a return item: during lactation the sow eats more, so it produces more milk and the piglets have a higher weight at weaning.


How much does intake increase? How much more does the piglet weight at weaning?

As an annual average, a 20% increase is guaranteed (in weanings at 21 days the average intake is normally of 6 kg/day, and in summer [4 months] it goes under 5 kg. With the liquid feeding the sows keep their intake easily over 7 kg [with 4 meals]).

20 extra kg of feed during the lactation mean increases of 2.5-3 kg BW per litter (some 0.25 kg per piglet). Bearing in mind that the cost of weaned piglet is normally 4 €/kg we would obtain a positive income of 1 € per piglet. A 500-sow farm that produces 25 piglets/sow/year would imply an extra cash inflow of 12,500 € (minus 1,500 € of extra maintenance = 11,500 € per year). This is a very cautious calculation and it is clearly supported by real data.

The investment for the farrowing quarters (it is much more expensive): 60,000 € (between 35,000 € - 85,000 €).

Amortization time: 10 years. After 10 years we consider that the residual value is 0 (although there are machines that have been working for more than 10 years with a maintenance much lower than the one presented).

We start from the premise that money loses value year after year: discount rate. The internal rate of return (IRR) and the net present value (NPV) are two financial parameters that are closely linked, and both will help us to see if an investment is profitable bearing in mid the future cash flows.

IRR: 14%
NPV (discount rate = 6%): 23,246.23 €
NPV (discount rate = 7%): 19,412.32 €


The IRR tells us that the money would have to lose a 14% of its value per year for the investment to reach the break even.
The NPV tells us that if the money loses a 7% annual value, currently, the investment will yield 19,000 €, or that if the money loses a 6% annual value the investment will yield 23,000 €.


The investment will be profitable always that we get the sow to increase its feed intake, and in order to attain this it is essential to have a qualified and responsible worker with a continuous supervision.

It is true that the extra cost of the 20 kg of feed is not included in the calculations, but in order to simplify things, it is assumed that this cost has a return that is more than enough with other improvements that are neither considered in the calculations (a lower loss of the sow’s body conditions, a better wean to estrus interval, a higher future prolificacy, and a better residual value of the culled sow, etc.).

But with a great difference, the greatest added value is that we avoid the breaking of the feeding curve during the weekends, and, of course, the quality of the workers’ work is improved. If we bore in mind these last parameters we would obtain a much higher profitability.

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Article Comments

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22-Jul-2013GJ. GerritsGJ. GerritsI must say, a nice article.but please not make a decision based on this article.because I am missing the biggest treat of this liquid feeding system (and I working already more than 20 years as a specialist worldwide). The main disadvante is hygiene control of the complete feeding system. World wide I see very, very often problems with yeast, moulds and other microbiological treats, which disturbing very easy, feed intake, feed value and lead to other disadvantages. In the past we did research to the hygiene status of the liquid feeding systems en also to the mixture quality in the Netherlands. We were shocked! More than 90% was not good, till very bad. And most of these farmers had on regular times, troubles with their animals. Especially with lactatings sows, which are very sensitive for disruptions in their normal daily rythem, it was a disaster.
I see mainly the advantages in grower/ finisher, the animals are less sensitive, and I can go for better f.c.r and meat quality on an easy way. BUT still hygiene will be important
08-Jun-2015romanromanawesome for home work
10-Oct-2017ZOOTECHZOOTECHI agree with Gerrits, nowadays there are automated dosing systems with dry feeeding for the Sows either at the Maternity & Gestation, where precision is also guaranteed; Also the concept of liquid feeding will be verry advantageous when you have by-products to combine with ..hence having a quicker ROI. I also vote for Liquid feeding for fatteners. Finally, I would use Dry feeding for Sows & liquid for Fatteners.
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