19 May 1995

Feed sows freely

PIG producers looking to replace sow stall and tether dry sow housing must opt for an alternative that allows individual feeding.

That was the advice of Prof Peter Brooks, Seale Hayne, University of Plymouth. Prof Brooks favours electronic sow feeding (ESF) systems over both dump and trickle feeders. "There is good evidence that sow performance on ESF systems is as good if not better than that of sows in stalls and tethers," he said.

Individual feeding ensured each animal could be fed to maintain body condition. "Body condition at farrowing is the fulcrum around which the rest of the productive system balances." That required matching feed intake to sow needs.

"All sows were not created equal, so we must be able to manage them as individuals to achieve optimum performance," he said.

His Seale Hayne-based unit houses 90 sows in straw yards. Feeding is by ESF. He claimed aggression in their sows was rare. "Sows only become aggressive when they are competing for feed or feel cornered."

He advised adopting a housing design that allowed the sow to behave as it wished.

Sows didnt queue behind the feeders, so it was important to ensure a "line of sight" from the resting to feeding area. Once fed, each sow moved on to a drinking and dunging area, so she was prevented from returning to the feeders immediately. A boar pen in the area could aid heat detection.

Prof Brooks advised against restricting access to feeders.

"Once she is fed, let her go in again, then realise she is not due a feed and push off."

The sow should be able to sleep, feed, drink, dung, visit the boar and then sleep. "Establish that routine and you will avoid mistakes in building design."

Prof Brooks suggested housing pregnant and post-weaning sows together in one dry sow house to reduce costs. He dismissed pre-feed areas or shedding pens as unnecessary complications that took up extra space. But recommended a spray device in the feeder to mark sows that had to be taken out.

Never introduce an individual sow back into the yard, he warned, but two or three would mix happily with any number of sows.

He admitted oestrus sows within a group created disturbance, especially if run with a catch boar. An oestrus detection gate worked well by separating the boar from the group to keep oestrus sows out of the way.

As for gilts, he advised bringing them into the group straight after they were mated and trained to the feeders, which should take only a week.