Correct feed type, uniform amount aids feed efficiency

Ensure adequate energy While small feed particles improve feed efficiency for finishing pigs, nursery pigs should have pelleted feed 

RED DEER — There is a genetic component to feed efficiency, but hog producers can do other things to improve weight gain, says a Kansas State University nutritionist.

“Dietary feed efficiency is relatively a simple formula,” Steve Dritz told the recent Red Deer Swine Technology Workshop.

At the simplest level it is a measure of the total amount of feed delivered divided by weight gain of the group.

The key is to get consistent measurements of the females and their diets as well as design a proper ration formulation with the correct ingredients. Growth is more uniform with properly mixed diets.

Adequate energy is required, but so are proper amino acid levels, with lysine being the most important.

“Feed manufacturing has become much more critical,” Dritz said.

Considerable research has been done recently in the United States on feed particle size and its effect on feed efficiency. It has been determined that feed efficiency improves 1.2 percent for each 100 micron decrease in particle size.

For example, reducing a corn particle size in a meal diet to 500 microns or less improves efficiency.

Dritz recommended 500 to 600 microns for grain that is fed in meal form. Smaller particles can be used in finishing pigs if flow ability is maintained.

However, fine feed for nursery pigs has a negative impact. Pelleted feed is a good option, but it is important to consider the added costs to make pellets and maintain quality.

“You can lose all the feed efficiency benefits if you have poor pellets.”

Good health and proper barn management are also critical factors in feed efficiency.

Disease knocks down performance and growth rate because sick pigs may continue to eat but do not gain weight. Feeding systems need to be clean and in good repair.

“Remember that duct tape is not a building material,” he said.

Barn temperature must be consistent because chilling or over-heating pigs results in inefficient use of feed.

Feed line setups need to be in good working order to make sure all pigs receive feed.

Feeder design should also control waste, which can occur in spills, while pigs are eating, as they back away from the feeder, during fighting at the feeder or stepping in and out of the feeder.

Pigs should stand perpendicular to the feeder so there is decreased rooting and less pig-to-pig interaction.

Record keeping at Alberta’s Sunterra Farms is critical to managing the feeding system. Scott Hyshka said the farm, which raises 4,300 sows at several sites, assumes each sow will eat 1.1 tonnes of feed per year.

Farm workers also learn to body condition score sows so that feed can be adjusted early in their gestation period. They have found that constant monitoring keeps the sows in consistent shape.

“Although visual condition scoring is a nice and efficient system, we do want to do some scanning and check to see and calibrate,” he said.

Ultrasound equipment may be used to obtain back fat estimates at the sow’s last rib.

Sunterra uses a system designed at Kansas State University:

  • Condition 1 is very thin and could be a welfare issue. There are no fat reserves and ribs are showing. These animals should be removed from the herd, although young ones may be removed and offered an ad lib diet.
  • Condition 2 is thin with no fat reserves between the legs but some coverage over the ribs.
  • Condition 3 is preferred with no cavities around the tail and no sunken flanks.
  • Condition 4 has more fat reserves.
  • Condition 5 is grossly fat.

Sows with a 3.5 condition score will not receive extra feed at Sunterra, but the thinner ones under three will receive a two pound bump in feed at 90 days of gestation.

For a full illustration of sow body condition scores, visit

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