Trickle feeding system is route to lower costs
The switch from stalls to group housing and trickle feeding has reduced concentrate use on one Northants unit.
Jonathan Riley reports
MINIMAL feed use, good observation, and low aggression among sows, are behind the decision to replace stalls with a trickle feed system at Pastures Farm, Olney, Northamptonshire.
The farm is owned by Newsham Hybrid who have reduced feed use by 150kg a sow a year to about 1.13t a sow a year with no loss of condition.
Farm manager Mark Mason who moved to the farm six months ago said: "After working with sows in stalls I was concerned performance of the herd would be poor."
But the 95 Large White and 142 Landrace sows produce average litters of 10.89 piglets born alive with birthweights of 1.5kg and weaning weights of 7.8kg at 25 days old.
The trickle feeder is sited in a portal frame building, housing 120 dry sows. Two lines of 12 straw-bedded pens, five sows to a pen, occupy the middle of the shed while boar pens are positioned to one side adjoining the dung passage for ease of mucking out.
"The set-up allows us to test for heat by running the sows in front of the boar," said Mr Mason.
Provision of boar pens demanded a wider portal frame building than many farmers would need and resulted in total construction costs of £472 a sow place. But manufacturers Kirncroft Engine-ering claim conversion of an existing building to include the trickle feeder system, gates, and concrete could be as low as £105 a pig place.
The trickle system is based on a line of cylindrical feeders which each hold a sows daily ration. The feeders run down the centre of the shed.
A two-speed auger fills the upper part of each cylinder to a pre-set level. The same auger then returns beneath the cylinders. At feeding, food is dropped into the lower half of the cylinder and delivered to the pens below by the auger running at a slower speed.
Each pen has five cylinders which trickle food onto a feeding area at about 85g (3oz) a minute.
Sows are not shut in or restrained while they eat but the feed area is divided by short partitions which extend by about 50cm (19 inches) into the pen.
"Because the food is dropped more slowly than the sow will eat, she clears up everything in front of her without gulping food and improving her digestion," said Mr Mason.
"There is no aggression or competition for food because the sow knows that if she leaves her running feed, she will lose out," he said.
Each pen provides the sow with 2.45sq m (27sq ft) of space so if necessary she can avoid aggressive sows in her group. Sows are kept in their weekly service groups after mating to keep them settled.
"We try to limit competititon by grouping sows according to size and condition score after farrowing," said Mr Mason.
Condition scoring is then carried out weekly by herdsman Jerry Wallinger. "Although we cannot tailor feed levels to meet individual sow needs we can easily adjust levels for a particular pen."
"Because all the sows feed at the same time it is easy to quickly assess their condition from a walkway above the pens," said Mr Wallinger.
A code of markings on the sows back indicates where pigs are in the production cycle, and what vaccinations they have received.
Barley straw is used for bedding and is preferred to wheat straw because it is more absorbent. One 250kg bale a day is sufficient for both sow and boar pens at a cost of £5 a day.
Straw use is kept to a minimum by the design of the insulated concrete floors.
Beneath the feeding area the floor is flat while the lying area has a 1 in 30 slope allowing the slow movement of straw down the pen towards the dunging passage. The final 0.9m (3 ft) of the pen before the dunging passage has a 1 in 16 gradient.
Pigman Robert Neville said: "The design means the sow drags the straw down on to the dunging passage after she has used it so there is no soiled straw in the lying area."
At mucking out, gates close over the steeper sloped floor, and a skidsteer loader is used to remove muck from the shed.
"Because straw on the beds stays clean, individual pens do not have to be mucked out and the entire routine from feeding to mucking out takes only half an hour," said Mr Neville. *
Mark Mason, pig unit manager at Newsham Hybrids Pastures Farm, Northants, checks feeding sows from the trickle feeder systems walkway.
Mucking out the dunging passage between the boar and sow pens takes just 10 minutes each day.