Swine Production News

Tim Safranski
State Swine Breeding Specialist
(573) 884-7994

October 29, 2013

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Proper Feeder Adjustments and Trough Space for Ideal Growth Performance of Finishing Pigs
A Summary by Adam Birk, MU Swine Production Student

The management of animals essentially comes down to maximizing performance while minimizing costs and waste. To be profitable, efficiency is vital. Of course proper management and efficiency in genetics, reproduction, nutrition, etc. are all important factors, but sometimes it is the day to day management that can really make a farm profitable. In December of 2012 A. J. Myers and colleagues from Kansas State University published a research article in the Journal of Animal Science confirming previous research and highlighting important management points for proper feeder adjustments and trough space for obtaining ideal growth in finishing pigs.

It is easy to see why proper feeder adjustment and trough space is so important. Even the most genetically superior pig will not be profitable if it is unable to eat the amount of feed that it needs to grow because of too little feeder space or too narrow feeder adjustment. Or if the pig is provided too much feed from improper feeder adjustment it may result in feed wastage of up to 30%, resulting in hard earned profits being thrown into the manure pit. In an effort to find the optimal feeder adjustment and trough space Myers and colleagues comprised two experiments. The experiments were conducted in a facility that is totally enclosed, environmentally controlled, with unrestricted access to feed and water. The facility also included adjustable gating to ensure each animal in each experimental group had exactly 0.74 mư (7.97 ft2) of floor space at the start of the study. The pigs were fed a common corn-soybean meal-based diet containing 20% dried distillers grains with solubles in meal form. The diet was formulated to meet or exceed the NRC requirements for 20-120 kg (44.09-264.55 lbs) pigs. Using these industry standards for facilities, all in-all out floor spacing, and diets ensures that the results of this experiment will be applicable in commercial swine production.

In experiment one, 234 pigs with an average initial body weight (BW) of 41.5 kg (91.5 lbs) were randomly allotted to three experimental treatments. The treatments consisted of narrow, medium, and wide feeder adjustments with minimum gap openings of 1.27 cm (0.5 in.), 1.91 cm (0.75 in.), and 2.54 cm (1 in.), respectively. Every two weeks the pigs were weighed so that average daily gain (ADG), average daily feed intake (ADFI), and growth to feed ratio (G:F) could be calculated. The feed disappearance and feeder pan coverage was also determined for comparison against the ADG, ADFI, and G:F. From this Myers and colleagues found that from day 0 to 58 the feeder gap of 0.75 in. resulted in the highest ADG of 1.03 kg (2.27 lbs), while the 0.5 in. and 1 in. feeder gaps resulted in ADG's of .97 kg (2.13 lbs) and 1.02 kg (2.25 lbs), respectively. Although increased ADG is ideal, the problem with increased feeder gap is that pan coverage also increases causing an increase in ADFI, resulting in the 0.75 in. and 1 in. feeder gaps having a G:F of 0.351, while the 0.5 in. feeder gap had a more efficient use of feed at 0.365 G:F. In days 58 to 89 an increased feeder gap had no effect on ADG, but ADFI increased as each feeder gap setting increased. This caused a 0.014 decrease in G:F from the 0.5 in. gap to the insignificantly different 0.75 in. and 1 in. gaps, meaning there is a non-significant drop in feed efficiency above 0.5 in. feeder gap.

Experiment two consisted of 288 pigs, in the same weight range as experiment one, being placed on treatments consisting of either 1.27 cm (.5 in.) or 2.54 cm (1 in.) feeder gap and feeder trough space treatments of 4.45 cm (1.75 in.) or 8.9 cm (3.5 in.). It was found that there were no differences in growth between the feeder trough space treatments of 1.75 in. and 3.5 in. The difference in feeder adjustment treatments concurred with the results found in experiment one.

From this experiment it is important to realize two major points. First, although the feeder gap was the variable in the experiment, the feeder pan coverage resulting from feeder adjustment is the driving factor for ideal growth and minimizing waste. For each feeding system, and each diet, the percentage of feeder pan coverage will be different even if the feeder adjustment is left the same. Myers and colleagues found that for pigs 37-70 kg (81.57-154.33 lbs) the ideal feeder pan coverage is about 60%, and for pigs 70-130 kg (154.33-286.60 lbs) the ideal feeder pan coverage is about 30%. Secondly, as a pig ages the feeder gap needs to be slowly decreased to reduce waste. The younger pig eats more slowly, and so feed needs to be more easily accessible to ensure each pig obtains an adequate amount of feed and optimizes growth. As it ages the pig eats much faster and wastes more, so the feeder gap should be reduced to lower the feeder pan coverage and minimize feed wastage. This being said, there is no one setting that is best for all pigs; there are simply too many variables. What is known is the ideal feeder pan coverage for each weight range of pigs. The most practical method for proper feeder adjustment is adjusting the feeder gap with some frequency based upon the feeder pan coverage and the size of the pigs so that wastage can be minimized and G:F can be maximized.

Although trough space was tested in this experiment, there is still much more room for experimentation in this area. Since the results were the same for both 1.75 in. and 3.5 in., it is clear that pigs 37 kg (81.57 lbs) and above don't need more than 1.75 in./pig trough space. Although it is important to provide enough trough space, floor space should be of higher concern as earlier studies found floor space to be the main driver of changes in growth performance.

Proper management is vital for obtaining the proper profits from your pigs. Adjusting the feeder gap for ideal feed pan coverage and ensuring the correct amount of trough space are two simple ways to improve your profits and get the most from your pigs.

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