Health, environment, genetics and feed ingredients all exert considerable influence on your pigs’ growth performance and feed efficiency, but don’t overlook the feeder’s importance.

In grow/finish facilities, a feeder can dispense 58 tons of feed per year, notes Mike Brumm, Brumm Swine Consultancy, Mankato, Minn. “If your average diet cost is $220 per ton, a 1 percent improvement in feed conversion is worth $127.60 per feeder per year.”

New feeders for a 2,000-head finishing barn might cost $7,000 to $10,000, or more. However, when deciding on the optimal feeder design for your operation, cost is not the only consideration. 

If you’re replacing feeders, you need to consider the impact on other areas such as manure storage and removal systems. While improved growth performance may be an obvious objective, there are several other factors to consider such as time required to recoup your investment.

As with most barn equipment, better quality usually pays off. “Purchase a high-quality feeder with heavy-gauge metal that offers good adjustment capabilities,” says Mike Tokach, Kansas State University swine nutritionist. “Then, make sure it is installed such that it cannot be moved by the pigs.”

Feeders with dividers allocating trough spaces ensure that all spaces can be utilized and encourage pigs to eat at a perpendicular angle to the feeder. This can help reduce rooting and fighting between pigs as well as feed waste.

“Without dividers, you may need to increase feeder width to provide the same number of useable spaces,” Tokach says. For dry feeders, he recommends allowing one feeding space for every eight to 10 finishing pigs.

Beyond a feeder’s age and functionality, feeders must provide pigs with adequate access to feed. Chances are the pigs you’re raising today are much larger than when you installed the feeders. Since most quality feeders should last 10 years or more, be certain the design will accommodate future pig sizes as well.

“On average, the industry continues to add 1 to 2 pounds to sale weights each year, so make sure the eating space will be adequate 10 years from now when market pigs are 20 or more pounds heavier,” Brumm says.

He suggests grow/finish feeders provide at least 14 inches per pig space with a front-to-back depth of at least 10 inches. Nursery feeders should have feeding spaces 7 to 8 inches wide with a front-to-back depth of more than 6 inches.

Look for feeders that are easy to adjust. As Tokach points out, “Many feeders on the market offer quick adjustments that can add to their flexibility and make them more useful long term.”

If you’re building new finishing facilities, you may still be undecided on the feeder type. Both dry and wet/dry feeders have advantages and disadvantages. Decisions should be based on your operation’s feed efficiency objectives and management capabilities.

The most common feeder for the nursery, as well as grow/finish, is the conventional dry feeder which offers an advantage in starting weaned pigs. “You don't need a separate water system for the feeder like you do with wet/dry feeders,” Brumm says. “Plus, since no water is present to mix with salt in the diet, slat erosion around the feeders is less.”

However, during hot weather, wet/dry feeders have an advantage. “All of the available data suggest pigs remain on feed better in summer with wet/dry feeders,” he adds.

In general, pigs on wet/dry feeders will consume about 5 percent more feed than pigs on dry feeders, Tokach points out. Feed efficiency is similar between the two models; thus, growth rate is 5 percent greater with wet/dry feeders.

Consider possible carcass effects as well. “Because they eat more, pigs on wet/dry feeders tend to develop more backfat and have lower carcass yield than pigs on dry feeders,” Tokach says.

Wet/dry feeders can reduce water use as well as the volume of liquid in manure pits, especially when compared to dry feeders combined with nipple drinkers. This can be an advantage in terms of pumping frequency as well as the slurry’s nutrient concentration.

If concrete erosion around the feeder is a concern, Brumm suggests applying epoxy coatings or concrete sealer to the corresponding floor area. “Using feed saver mats also can help prevent the damage,” he notes.

Water supply must be managed carefully to capture wet/dry feeders’ full benefits. “The typical recommendation is 5 psi at the drinker,” Brumm says. “However, you can lose 1 psi per 100 feet of water distance in a barn. Plus, low pressures can reduce flow by a square-root function so any line-sizing issue is magnified.”

As for pig space, Tokach recommends one space for every 12 to 15 pigs on a wet/dry feeder. Regarding feeder placement, the key is to ensure there’s adequate room for pigs to move and avoid being jammed or isolated.

Feeder manufacturers can help determine the best feeders for the diets you’re using. In the Midwest, most pigs are weaned onto a pelleted diet and then go on to meal. “Some feeders are better at handling the change from pellets to meal, which is an issue for most nurseries and wean-to-finish operations,” Brumm says.

For optimum feeder function, you need to watch pellet quality. “Poor-quality pellets with lots of fines can be a nightmare to keep feeders correctly adjusted,” he adds.

Kansas State University researchers conducted a study to evaluate the growth performance effects of conventional dry feeders versus wet/dry feeders. The 102-day study involved 1,296 pigs. All pigs received corn/soybean meal diets containing 20 percent to 40 percent distillers’ dried grains with solubles during six dietary phases.

Pigs fed with conventional dry feeders in the nursery phase and wet/dry feeders in the finisher tended to have greater average daily gain (2.03 pounds) than pigs fed with other feeders. To review the complete study, go to http://tinyurl.com/7kv5pjh/.

Liquid feeding is receiving more attention and research, even though it has not yet been widely used in the United States. Computer-controlled delivery of liquid feed provides flexibility in using unique feeding programs, including inexpensive liquid co-products from ethanol production.

Over 20 percent of Ontario’s grow/finish pigs are raised on liquid-feeding systems, according to C.F.M. de Lange, University of Guelph animal scientist. “Liquid feeding allows the use of high-moisture corn, which is an important driver of the practice in Ontario,” he says.

He points out that liquid feeding can increase pigs’ gut health, which can reduce the use of subtherapeutic antibiotics. Also, air quality in facilities can improve by reducing dust levels.

However, liquid feeding is technology intensive, requiring computers, liquid mechanics and unique operator skills. The lack of uniformity in co-products and the potential build-up of molds, yeast or bacteria are additional challenges that might be encountered with liquid-feeding systems.

When investigating new feeders, focus on factors that are most important and unique to your operation; then do some calculations. You may find the payoff today is quicker than you thought.

Considering Sow-feeding Systems

Because many gestation-sow housing options are available, feeding systems also have grown in number and complexity. Since the focus is on sow body condition at farrowing, feeding systems that deliver individualized feed amounts generally provide better results.

 Most gestation-sow feeders for stall-housing systems are individual drop boxes that deliver a pre-set feed amount one or more times a day. The accuracy of the feed drop can vary over time and needs to be watched closely and adjusted when necessary.

With increasing activist pressures, some meat packers and producers are adopting group gestation-sow housing. This also has increased the use of electronic sow-feeding units even though initial costs are high.

ESF requires technical orientation by the management team as well as close observation by workers inside the barns. The adjustment period can be challenging. However, ESF stations do allow for individual sow feeding for group-housed sows.

There are many ways to evaluate gestation-sow feeding systems such as sow performance and longevity, animal well-being, sow body condition or pigs weaned. Close management along with the ability to rapidly address issues that arise are keys to capturing the best possible results with each system.