Feeding pigs is much more than nutrition

There’s no doubt that if every farm could get rid of disease they would be a lot more profitable. But being realistic, disease, no matter how underlying, is here to stay.

But the solution to living with disease is much more than relying on specialist diets and medicines, it’s about tinkering at the edges and maximising feed intake by other means, says Primary Diets managing director Paul Toplis.

“Every pig is compromised by having an active immune system and all farms will have some form of disease challenge, no matter how minimal. The problem is when you get a disease-challenged pig, their appetite goes down, so then if you can do anything to make it easier for pigs to get more food in to them then that is helpful.”

Disease can induce an enormous amount of inertia among pig producers, but Mr Toplis reassures farmers that they can make things better even when their position is compromised by disease.

“The greatest payback will come not from diet adjustments, but from efforts to increase feed intake. Making several small improvements is worthwhile, because it will increase feed intake and growth rate, as well as improving the feed conversation ratio that ultimately reduces feed costs a pig.”

He suggests that by having a check list of 10 key simple areas, farmers can help maximise feed intake on their unit.

Producers should check:

• Feed and water availability
• Feed specification, energy and feeder setting
• Pellet quality/grist/dust
• Bulk density
• Wet feed, volume, frequency, fermentation etc
• Stocking density and wastage
• Environment
• Are the figures robust
• Do pigs “stall” at any stage
• How does it tie in with growth and grading

“For example, a lot of farms are built on the basis of producing 22 pigs a sow a year, but they are now producing 24-25 pigs which means more pigs a pen. This in turn puts pressure on access to food and water. So every effort to try and increase feed intake will be paid with a reward,” he says.

And research has shown that the biggest loss of performance in disease-challenged pigs comes from reduced feed intake, says Mr Toplis.

“Trials have shown that 70% loss of performance in disease-challenged pigs comes from reduced feed intake and 30% loss of performance comes from the animals having a more active immune system, which means nutrients are diverted away from growth to antibody production. This just reinforces the argument about maximising intakes.

“It’s important to remember that a healthy pig’s aim in life is to maximise lean meat growth, but when infected, their priority is to maintain survival and make sure their immune system is working.”

Rattlerow Farms, Suffolk 

Pig farmer Robin Brice has been using a natural feed additive for the past three years on some of his units and says using it has not only improved the health of his pigs, but has improved growth rate and feed conversion.

“We believe it is important to invest not only in providing a good and healthy environment for pigs but to also feed good-quality feed,” says Mr Brice.

But the natural additive that he feeds at a rate of 2kg for every tonne in weaner diets and at 1kg a tonne in finisher diets has not only helped improve growth rates it has also improved the environment for the pigs and, in turn, pig health.

“The additive we use binds ammonia and so reduces the amount of ammonia in the accommodation. So directly the product not only improves gut health, it also has improved the environment – so much so that when you walk through the accommodation you don’t leave smelling of ammonia,” he says.

Mr Brice also says tailoring the feed with this additive has improved FCR and growth rates by 6-8%. “The improvement in production means it is definitely cost-effective to use,” he adds.