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Feeding pigs individually tailored diets through automated feeding systems has been shown to reduce both feed cost and emissions by 10-20%, a conference heard on Thursday (2 November).

However, much developmental work is required before strategies are adopted in the wider industry, the Society of Feed Technologists annual pig conference was told.

Jean-Yves Dourmad of INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research) told the conference that precision feeding could cut production costs and nitrogen and phosphorous excretion.

See also: How one UK pig producer is managing without zinc oxide

The savings were shown in study trials, he stressed. Many complicated questions need answering before precision feeding’s full benefits can be rolled out across commercial pig farming. 

This would require added cost in areas such as data modelling, ultrasound scanning and ultra-high frequency tagging and but brought a “win-win” of savings and increased performance, he added.

He explained that the developments from individual animal data recording were applicable to both sows and growing pigs to cater for the 25% variability often seen in pens.

He stressed that much nitrogen and feed waste came from overfeeding. 

Data collection

Collecting data on feed intake, growth potential, liveweight and conformation could influence mill and mixing systems in real-time, said Mr Dourmad.  

“How efficient sows and fatteners are mainly depends on reproductive and growth potential and the rate of depositions and proteins,” said Mr Dourmad. “Energy in fat is much higher than lean tissues due to differences in water content and as such measuring body compositions is a main driver of energy efficiency in growing pigs.”

He added that studies had found better returns for supplying digestible lysine to net energy ratio up to 105-115% above the average pig in the herd.

There were many issues to overcome Mr Dourmad told Farmers Weekly. “Feeder aggression could be an issue and designing feeders and weighers will have to cater for that. There are also issues like split-sex feeding, litter size in sows and sow parity.”

Britain’s farming future

Nigel Penlington, AHDB Pork head of knowledge exchange, told Farmers Weekly that precision feeding could help British pig farmers as they move away from the EU and into the world market.

“Feed costs are at least 60% of cost of production, so we are potentially talking a 12% saving on cost of production from using these technologies,” said Mr Penlington.

Using UHF (ultra-high frequency) tags could very simply save mundane jobs like updating feed controllers as pig numbers in each room alter.

“The feed system will know there are fewer pigs in. This is very simple and will save on an important but mundane job that sometimes doesn’t get done.”