WET FEEDS A LIQUID ASSET
Despite high capital costs
and teething problems, one
Scots pig producer has
achieved lower feed costs
and increased production
from a wet feed system.
Claire Powell reports
IDEALLY, Dennis Bridgeford would finish every one of the 12,000 pigs he annually sends to slaughter on a wet feed system.
The main attraction is the cost of production. The main deterrent is capital cost.
Mr Bridgeford runs a total of 600 sows at Petley Farm, near Portmahomack, a coastal village in the Scottish county of Easter Ross. The farm overlooks the Dornoch Firth and 150 outdoor sows enjoy the bracing sea air, with the remaining 450 housed.
A wet feed system for young pigs was first tried at Petley in 1996. The high cost of proprietary feed prompted Mr Bridgefords decision to seek cheaper alternatives for his pigs.
"We have our own mill and considered methods of delivering food to our young pigs which would be as palatable as a pellet, but more cost effective and require less labour," he explains.
A need to modernise the previous, labour-intensive bag feeding of pellets system helped to soften the £20,000 blow demanded to install the required pipework, troughs, pumps, tanks and computer for the wet feed system.
By the time every Petley pig has reached 35kg, it will have been on the wet feed system at some stage during rearing.
Immediately after weaning, piglets are fed high quality post-weaning pellets for nine days to develop gut function. "When a piglet goes more than six hours without feed, the gut is damaged. So continuous food consumption is vital," explains Mr Bridgeford.
Nine days after weaning, weighing 9kg, piglets go on to a wet feed starter diet for a further 10 days, aiming for 13kg. The mix – a two to one ratio of water to dry matter, is predominantly locally grown cereal, milled through a fine screen.
"It is important to mill cereal to a uniform fine grist. Otherwise there is separation, with larger particles sinking to the bottom, making feed unpalatable."
This diet, costing less than £200/t, is £150/t cheaper than a proprietary diet.
After 10 days on the wet starter feed, pigs graduate to second stage wet feed. This is barley based – locally grown – with high levels of soya and low levels of fishmeal for protein. Locally grown oilseed rape is also added for energy and a cheap source of oil. Again, the uniform grist of the ingredients is important, with soya being reground after delivery.
This diet costs £120/t, a saving of £80-90/t against pellets. "An added benefit with the system is the total control we have over diet ingredients and traceability.
"We know exactly what were feeding and can adapt diets based on protein price fluctuation, while maintaining a spec of 21.7% protein and 14.4MJ/kg digestible energy."
At least half a labour unit is saved every day. This cost-saving is mainly thanks to the computerised system which, activated by sensors in each trough, delivers fresh feed to individual troughs when feed is low.
Recently, an updated computer system was installed costing more than £5000. This more efficient system has resulted in pigs consuming an extra 1.5t/week. With 1000 pigs on the system and a food conversion rate of 1.6. This results in almost an extra tonne of production weekly.
The computer also gives figures on feed consumption – daily, running and cumulative. When intakes are down, suggesting a problem, it gives an early warning.
A health benefit of wet feeding has been reduced respiratory problems in pigs due to elimination of feed dust.
Mr Bridgeford admits there have been problems changing to the wet feed system. But after some steep learning curves and the odd disaster, he is confident the feeding regime is now finely tuned.
"Initially we put piglets on to the wet feed straight from weaning. This worked well until feed fermentation occurred in the cooler weather, which stopped them eating and led to gut damage."
Mr Bridgeford adds it is important that ample clean water is available. Cube drinkers supply very young pigs.
Development plans at Petley had been on hold. But a recent improvement in returns means Mr Bridgeford will make a hole in a wall and run the wet feed pipework into an additional building, increasing the number of pigs on the system.
Benefit of experience
If he could turn the clock back and put in his wet feed system now, with the benefit of the past five years of experience, what would Mr Bridgeford do differently?
"I would go for the highest spec computer system available and wouldnt listen to professors, but take advice from practical farmers with the system on a farm, not in a laboratory."
He is convinced the wet feed system is the way forward. "We have to control our costs of production. Currently every 0.1 improvement in food conversion ratio equals £1/pig.
"This system is feeding more than 1000 pigs every 10 minutes with the correct amount and type of fresh feed to satisfy their maximum intake. Pigs show no sign of vices, the system reduces labour requirements and feed costs have been reduced." *
Sensors in feed troughs activate the computerised system to deliver fresh feed, reducing labour and maximising pig feed intakes.
• High spec computer.
• Lower feed costs.
• Feed to maximum intakes.
The up-dated computor system records feed consumption and gives an early warning of problems, says Dennis Bridgeford.