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Improving performance and homogeneity in the fattening stage: feeder space and feed management

The two measures studied would allow to reduce liveweight variability at slaughter by 10-15%.

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Strategies to improve the growth and homogeneity of growing-finishing pigs: feeder space and feeding management. López-Vergé, S., Gasa, J., Temple, D., Bonet, J., Coma; J. and D. Solà-Oriol. Porcine Health Management (2018) 4:14, https://doi.org/10.1186/s40813-018-0090-9
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A very present-day problem, especially in companies that use a multi site production system, is the large variability in liveweight in the group or production batch at the end of the fattening period. On the one hand, it reduces the global efficiency of the fattening unit and on the other hand it delays the complete emptying of the fattening buildings, thereby reducing the number of pigs fattened per space and year.

The article shows two aspects of management during the fattening stage that can modify the performance of the group and help to reduce the liveweight variability at the end of this stage: on the one hand the number of pigs per feed opening (or feeder space), and on the other one the direct intervention on the feeding program.

Feeder space

It is well known that the number of pigs per feeder space rises as the pigs' age and liveweight increases. The results of the experiment show, without being conclusive, that an excess of animals per feeder space can condition both the production results and the final liveweight variability, although they also suggest that it should not be a very important factor, because the tested range is wide (between 2.5 and 5.5 pigs per feed opening), and the response in terms of variability reduction is modest. Also, an excessively low relationship can probably coincide with a greater feed wastage and a worsening of the feed conversion ratio, that has not been measured in this study.

Direct intervention on the feeding program

In the second experiment, the pigs were distributed in groups according to their weight at the beginning of the fattening stage (high or low). By using a feeding program with four feeds, half of the light pigs (Lp) groups were fed like the heavy pigs (changing their feed on a fixed day), and the other half were fed using a “budget approach” (the next feed is provided when the previous feed has run out. In practice, these piglets consume the same amount of the first feed than the heavy pigs, but for more days). Although feeding the light pigs with a “budget approach” requires segregating them in different buildings to those of the heavy pigs or having a double feed distribution system in the same building, the results are clearly positive, they need less days to reach their slaughter weight and they reduce their slaughter liveweight variability, but they complicate management or require a certain investment.

Conclusions and practical implications

In the end, the two measures studied, when used togheter, would allow to reduce the slaughter liveweight variability by 10-15% (equivalent to 1.0-1.5 percentage points of the coefficient of variation). Actions carried out during the periods prior to the fattening stage could undoubtedly cause greater reductions, specially if we focus on the liveweight variability at birth and at weaning.

In practice, the feeding systems have evolved in the last years, and the emergence of hyperprolificacy and animal welfare laws have undoubtedly forced the remodelling of the sows' facilities. On the other hand, the prohibition of growth-promoting antibiotics has changed the picture of feeding in the nurseries. On the contrary, in many cases we still have the same old fattening buildings, and the new ones are normally built like those of the 20th century. Studies like this one would encourage the reassessment of the fattening buildings and betting on new ways of feeding during the fattening stage: phase feeding, liquid feeding or even precision feeding can be good options. Anyhow, any change and/or investment requires a previous cost-benefit study.

Abstract of the commented article

Strategies to improve the growth and homogeneity of growing-finishing pigs: feeder space and feeding management. López-Vergé, S., Gasa, J., Temple, D., Bonet, J., Coma; J. and D. Solà-Oriol. Porcine Health Management (2018) 4:14, https://doi.org/10.1186/s40813-018-0090-9

Background and methods: The aim was to test two strategies for improving the growth rate of the slow-growth pigs and to increase the batch’s homogeneity at slaughter. In Trial 1 a total of 264 weaned piglets were distributed into 24 pens (11 piglets/pen) according to sex and initial body weight (BW) for the nursery period (N; day 28 to day 64). During the N period, a commercial lidded feeder hopper was used (3.7 pigs/feeder space). When moving to the growing facilities, the 24 pens were maintained and split into two groups of 12 according to sex and feeder type (HD or 5.5 pigs/feeder space and LD or 2.2 pigs/feeder space). In Trial 2 a total of 1,067 piglets were used and classified, when leaving the nursery at 63 days of age, as Heavy (Hp, n = 524) and Light (Lp, n = 543) pigs. Along the growing period, Hp and half of the Lp pigs were fed with four consecutive feeds, following a standard feeding program (Std). Alternatively, the other half of the Lp pigs were fed according to a budget approach, changing the first three feeds on the basis of an equivalent feed consumption instead of age (Sp).

Results: In Trial 1, higher BW (80.2 kg vs. 82.1 kg; P = 0.02), ADG (704 g/d vs. 725 g/d; P = 0.02) and lower number of lesions were observed for pigs raised with the LD treatment, compared to the HD treatment at day 154 (P < 0.05). The CV of the final BW was numerically lower for the LD treatment. In Trial 2, higher BW and ADG and lower CV were observed for the LSp pigs from day 83 to day 163 (P < 0.001) of age compared to LStd. Moreover, an interaction observed for carcass weight at slaughter (P = 0.016) showed that the Sp pigs had a higher carcass weight than the Std pigs, and the difference increased as the emptying of the barn facility advanced.

Conclusion: It is concluded that the feeder space and feeding management may affect the growth of growing-finishing pigs and liveweight homogeneity at the end of the period.

Article Comments

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30-Oct-2018aschinckaschinckwhat statistics were used to test if the varation amongst the pigs was different between treatments ? Were pigs weighed and sorted for market or visually evaluated ? The accuracy in which pigs are sorted for market has subnstantial impact on the variance in BW and carcass wieght.
19-Nov-2018pig333pig333Hi Prof Schinckel, the answer from the authors is:

What statistics were used to test if the varation amongst the pigs was different between treatments ?
Regarding the performance in terms of BW, pigs were the experimental unit in all calculations except when mentioning the variability (expressed as coefficient of variation (%) and referred to the pen as experimental unit).
In Trial 1, the combination of feeder type (HD or LD), sex (male or female) yielded a 2 x 2 factorial arrangement that was analyzed using the GLM procedure defining the model:

Yijk = µ + treati + sexj + sex*treatij+ Ɛij

where Yijk relates to each observation of the outcome variable, µ is the global mean, treati is the main effect of treatment, sexj is the main effect of sex, and sex*treatij corresponds to the interaction between sex and treatment and, finally, Ɛij is the experimental error term. Regarding the interaction term, it was found to not be significant, so it was removed from the model. The BW at day 64 (end of nursery period) was used as a covariate because the distribution was defined at weaning. Regarding the variability, measured as CV, the model used in Trial 1 (feeder type) was almost the same but simplified, using a One Way ANOVA with treatment as the main source of variation as we were interested in the general effect of the treatment. We also check for the ‘period effect’ on CV and we observed a significant effect for both treatments meaning that as pigs approached to slaughter were less variable (not included in the paper). In Trial 2 (feeding program management), the effect of treatment (Sp or Std diets) on BW and ADG of piglets was analyzed with a repeated measures ANOVA by using the Proc MIXED. Sex was also added as a factor in the model, but as it was not significant. It was declared the pig as the repeated unit, with the option AR(1) of SAS (Autoregressive method) to define the structure of the error (co)variance matrix. Data was grouped by treatment. The same model was used to compare the effect of treatment considering only the light piglets (LSp or LStd) or as group basis (G1, Sp. or G2, Std.).Finally, and regarding the variability, the model used was the same as previously used in Trial 1. In this case, differences among treatments were significant between treatments.

Were pigs weighed and sorted for market or visually evaluated ?
The accuracy in which pigs are sorted for market has subnstantial impact on the variance in BW and carcass wieght. In all cases, the selection for slaughter was performed by picking up the animals that had reached their slaughter weight (105 kg, checked by weighting them individually) the day before slaughtering and fasting them overnight. The same procedure was conducted two or three more times until the finishing barn was emptied.
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