Fine-tuning finishing management can pay big dividends, especially when feed costs are unusually high. That’s because 60% to 65% of the total cost of producing a market hog is usually incurred during what has traditionally been considered the grow/finish phase. Furthermore, in many farrow-to-finish operations 75% to 80% of total feed usage occurs during this phase of production. Therefore, being focused on improving feed efficiency in finishing units reaps big financial rewards.
For most operations the biggest payoff of a sound total-herd healthcare program is better utilization of feed while pigs are in finishing units. The health status of pigs heading into the finishing phase is an extremely important factor. That’s because the feeding period is lengthy and chronic diseases have lots of time to undermine performance.
Head Off Stress Before It Hurts Performance
One of the keys to good finishing management is getting pigs off to a good start. It is very difficult to end up with acceptable closeout data if a group of pigs is forced to play catch-up after a slow start.
If pigs experience stress immediately after entering finishing units, it usually impacts growth performance and feed conversion throughout the feeding period.
Whenever pigs of any age are moved into a new environment it creates stress and makes them more vulnerable to disease challenges. This is especially true when young pigs enter a wean-to-finish environment.
It takes top-notch management and attention to detail, especially during the first few days, to consistently get groups of pigs off to a fast start.
It is very important to know the likely health status of incoming pigs. Whether the pigs are coming from another site within the operation or from another source, open communication about the health history of the breeding herd is essential information. Even with strict all-in/all-out production and good sanitation, some disease cycles are difficult to break without targeted use of healthcare products.
Environmental stress can be the downfall of pigs early in the finishing phase, especially during seasons with changeable weather. Good hog farm employees watch pigs closely for any signs of stress. Workers should constantly be on the lookout for changes in the animals’ body condition and behavior. Sleeping patterns are one way to tell if pigs are comfortable. If they’re huddled together it means either the temperature is too low or too much air is moving across the sleeping area.
Temperature is obviously an important criterion when evaluating the microenvironment pigs live in. The sleeping area for pigs weaned at three weeks or less should be kept near 90 degrees the first few days.
Zonal heat in the sleeping area keep pigs comfortable and saves energy. Young pigs can not tolerate drafts.
Nursery ventilation systems must mix incoming air away from the animals. This usually means the air must enter the room with enough velocity to blend with warmer air before dropping to pig level.
A solid overlay in the sleeping area will reduce drafts and be more comfortable to lie on than wire or concrete slats. Figure about 0.6 square feet of sleeping space per pig. These sleeping boards can also be used to help introduce pigs to solid food by scattering a few pellets several times the first couple days after weaning and letting the pigs’ natural curiosity teach them about solid food.
Because young pigs quickly become dehydrated, it is imperative that they find and have easy access to water. It might be necessary to lock nipple waterers open for a few hours. Some producers like waterers that are a nipple/bowl combination because the cup gives timid pigs easier access to water. Make certain the height of waterers is adjusted to be shoulder high to the smallest pigs in the group. A flow rate of one quart per minute is about right for finishing buildings.
The best sources of information about the microenvironment are the pigs themselves. Extensive “walk throughs” need to be done in all finishing buildings at least once each day—twice daily the first few weeks after a new group enters the building.
Observations need to be made about the entire building, every pen and each individual animal.
Significant improvements have been made in feeder design over the years, but this is still an aspect of finishing unit management that can have a huge impact on how efficiently feed is converted into pork. Even well managed finishing buildings have up to 2% feed wastage and consultants say 6% to 8% wastage is common.
Even well-designed feeders require attention. That’s because the window between underfeeding and overfeeding is narrow for gravity flow feeders. All feeders need to be checked daily and employees must become adept at making minor adjustments. Many operations use the rule of thumb that no more than 25% of the trough should be covered with feed. It’s probably a good idea to make feed more readily available than that during the first week of the feeding period, though.