16 June 1995

to individual

Sow feed set

By Jessica Buss

FEEDING sows according to weight and "P2" condition score is central to successful group housing at Graham Weeks Manor Farm, Laverton, Bath, Somerset.

He claims to have increased the output of his 250-sow unit by 600 pigs a year since he replaced tethers with group housing and electronic sow feeders four years ago.

The feeders enable him to offer 15 different rations according to sow condition, stage of pregnancy and age.

Pig unit manager Steve Wakefield sets each sows ration once only, when sows are weighed and condition scored at weaning. Age is also taken into account.

"Older animals require feeding at a different rate for they need less feed than a sow in her second pregnancy," he says.

The computer steps up the sows feed automatically 10 and 13 weeks into pregnancy.

Feed for all pigs over 12 weeks of age is milled and mixed on the farm. Independent nutrition advice comes from McTNutrition.

The feeding cycle starts at 5.30pm, with all three feeders available to the main group of sows. However, a special gate restricts entry to the pre-feeding yard to only a few sows at a time. It also stops sows entering when they have eaten their full ration.

Double exit gates offer a clear exit from the feeder to the outdoor dunging and drinking yard.

Sows are settled during the day and can be injected easily or pregnancy diagnosed in the straw yard, or taken out for farrowing, says Mr Wakefield.

Colour-coded collars help to identify the sows, and those close to farrowing tend to be found near the wall of the straw yard, he says.

Sows should have control of the barn. "Routine tasks should be done when it is convenient for the sows," he stresses. This helps keep the sows content, so providing a pleasant working environment.

Mr Wakefield and his assistant Simon Stokoe prefer the electronic sow feeder set-up to tether or outdoor systems. "Its more user-friendly and also gives better control," says Mr Stokoe.

The straw yard is bedded late in the afternoon when sows start to move around before feeding. On average the yard requires 15 round bales of wheat straw a week. The front of the straw yard is cleaned out every two to three months and replaced with bales of fresh straw.

"Lots of fresh straw is essential to avoid breeding and farrowing difficulties," says Mr Wakefield.

The importance of providing fresh straw was highlighted when a few sows contracted cystitis. The yard was cleaned out and the condition cleared up.

Boars are housed in pens at one end of the building. "Gaps in the pen walls allow weaned sows contact with the boars," he says.

Replacement gilts are PIC Cambras, and need to be robust to survive in this type of system, stresses Mr Weeks. The gilts are served when they reach 150kg, and P2 score 18.

"There is no place for sows which cause disruption or noise and they are culled if they do not settle in the barn," he adds.

There is no room for gilts to be housed in the dry sow barn, which enables them to be fed a higher energy ration, says Mr Weeks. Theyre kept in a training pen and come into the dry sow house after their first litter. Until then they are fed during the day with weaned sows which also stay in the training pen until served.

Gilts are encouraged through feeders during the day by leaving the gates open and placing food on the floor. "They should not be forced through the feeder and must be treated with empathy by the stockman," says Mr Wakefield.

Mr Weeks stresses the need to consult staff when designing a new building, as it should be pleasant for them to work in. His advises a high roof with good ventilation and an outdoor dunging area to keep smells outside.

He opted for Nedap feeders, with a Quality Equipment backing gate.

The dry sow and service building, plus all fittings including feeders and gates cost £330 a sow in 1991.

"It was not the cheapest option, but an investment in the future," he says.