Dont make wet feeds decision without care
By Marianne Curtis
IS WET feeding pigs as attractive an option as we are led to believe? One Staffs producer believes a move to the system has failed to bring any net advantages and while experts dispute this, they do admit careful research is needed.
Believing that wet feeding offered advantages such as being able to use cheaper by-products and achieving at least as good feed conversion as for dry feeding, producer Roger Mercer installed a wet feeding system on his 400-sow unit, near Lichfield in 1997.
"I invested £50,000 in the system and since then have seen increases in machinery maintenance costs and a few thousand £s added on to the electric bill. Floors are also much wetter, requiring more bedding and scraping."
Obtaining a consistent supply of by-products for wet feeding also poses a challenge and, on balance, Mr Mercer feels he hasnt gained by switching to the system.
But MLC pig technical manager Pinder Gill says that although wet feeding is more complex, opportunities outweigh costs.
"There is less feed waste, less dust and feed conversion and growth rates improve by about 10%. Feed costs can be as low as 25p/kg liveweight gain compared with 30p for dry systems."
When it comes to dealing with slurry, however, Dr Gill admits that flooring for wet feeding systems is an important consideration. "Wet fed pigs do produce more urine which on straw-based systems means more bedding.
"Straw-based systems dont marry well with wet feeding; slatted flooring tends to be better. When straw is used, flooring with a gentle slope helps to drain away excess fluids," says Dr Gill.
Problems such as this must be considered well before wet feeding systems are purchased, warns Kevin Stickney of Norfolk-based Farm Nutrition.
"Wet feeding systems are often sold as a panacea and producers assume that using them is simple.
"While there is no question about the positives, learning new skills is necessary to operate them effectively."
Dr Stickney says that although wet feeding systems are complicated pieces of equipment, maintenance costs should be the same or marginally cheaper than for dry feeding systems. Running costs may actually be less, he adds.
"Producers grinding cereals for rations should see a saving in electricity when they move over to wet systems which require a relatively small amount of power to drive the mixer motor," says Dr Stickney.
But changing from dry ingredients to liquid feeds needs a fresh approach, he warns.
"Home-mixers may formulate a dry ration at the end of harvest and use the same ration for the whole year. This is not possible when using liquid by-products. Variation in cost, quality and availability means reformulation must be more frequent and may require input from a nutritionist."
For producers contemplating wet feeding, research is all important, advises Dr Stickney. "It is a big step, so research it as fully as possible and bear in mind that it will involve new rules which must be adhered to for success."
Opening the lid on wet feeding…make sure you are fully aware of the facts.
• By-product supply problem?
• Slatted flooring best.
• Research carefully.