Farmer Focus: Lockdown allows trial of outdoor creep feeder

We resumed our quarterly vet and field person visits on 19 May, with strict social distancing observed and contamination risks minimised.

A quick call between us all at the end of the visit allowed key points to be discussed. At least the visit took place and some boxes were ticked.

The following day the pregnancy scanner came for the first time in quite a while. He missed testing two sow groups in lockdown so extra care is being taken to spot any animals not in pig. 

See also: 6 causes of pig infertility and how to avoid them

Our conception rates have been good recently so the risk of clocking up a load of extra wasted days is hopefully quite low.

I’ve been keeping myself busy by running trial work on a prototype piglet creep feeder that fits inside a farrowing hut and allows piglets ad-lib access to creep feed pre-weaning.

Getting piglets on to creep early indoors is the norm, and the advantages are well known. However, providing a reliable, sow-proof ab-lib creep supply in an outdoor farrowing hut has not been achieved, to my knowledge.

Many years ago, we walked through the farrowing paddocks at feeding time with a bucket of creep and scooped tiny, skilfully controlled amounts on to the hut floor for the oldest piglets.

In those days we farrowed in groups of six or seven sows, so sows ate competitively together, not leaving the feed line until it was all cleared up. That gave the piglets time to eat a little and get a taste for dry feed pre-weaning.

But now we individually paddock farrow, so a sow could come back to the ark, eat piglet creep if exposed, and then go back to her own feed for more. We also now batch farrow every three weeks, so we have three times as many litters needing creeping at any one time.

I came up with an idea for a hut-mounted feeder that has enough capacity for about a week, so filling is infrequent enough to be practical. It’s proved to be 100% sow-proof.

My trials to date have measured consumption. Next I’ll measure weight gain. The long-term plan is to work with my associates at Contented Products and hopefully turn this farmer idea into a practical product.

Rob McGregor manages an outdoor pig operation in north Norfolk. See his biography.