With high feed ingredient prices affecting pork producers around the world, it seems logical to expect that closer attention would be paid to management of feeders in swine facilities. However, the experience of every consultant and industry advisor I know suggests that producers, employees and contract growers continue to be lax in the daily adjustment of feeders. As proof, see the accompanying pictures (pictures 1, 2 and 3). These are pictures I’ve taken in the past 6 months as I’ve walked client’s fully slatted production facilities.
Improperly adjusted feeders with mash diets
One of the challenges in feeder adjustment is the many variations in feeder design, especially at the point of feed access by the pig. In some feeders, pigs turn wheels or activate agitation devices to make feed available for consumption. In others, feed delivery is controlled by means of a slotted device whose width is controlled by the producer. Add to this the differences in feed flow-ability between mash and pellets, between high and low fiber diets, between high and low fat inclusion levels and you have the recipe for much variation in the expectation for proper feeder setting to minimize wastage while maximizing intake and gain.
In the United States where a majority of all diets are corn and soybean meal based, there are several visual guides available for feeder adjustment. The most commonly used source is a set of pictures from Kansas State University swine specialists. These are available here.
Equipment manufacturers and nutrition suppliers also offer pictorial guides to assist in feeder adjust..
While these pictures can be very helpful, employees and contract growers often don’t relate these pictures to their facilities. I’ve been in production facilities where these pictures are posted on the office wall as a guide for employees and the employees ignore the pictures.
In my experience, the best method to have cooperation of all parties in achieving consistent feeder adjustment is to use a digital camera. As the owner and employee or as the advisor and owner/employee walk pens in a facility examining pigs and feeder and drinker adjustments, when they agree on the appropriate feeder adjustment setting, take a picture of the feeder. Print the picture and post it in the office or hallway to the facility. (pictures 4 and 5) Now the employee has ‘ownership’ in feeder adjustment because the picture of a correctly adjusted feeder is one that he/she participated in.
Feeder adjustment picture posted in a production facility
Properly adjusted ad libitum feeder for mash diets
In general, the research data suggests that feeders designed for ad libitum feed access with diets in the mash form should have approximately 40% of the feeder pan covered with feed. If pan coverage is less than 20%, feed intake may be limited, which will result in a decrease in daily gain and often only a minimal improvement in feed conversion efficiency.