Can computer-controlled eating time increase feed intake?

Wet feeding is the dominating way of feeding grower-finisher pigs in, for example, Germany and Denmark. One of the significant advantages of liquid feeding is that the pigs can follow a restricted feeding scheme. The restriction in feed intake is essential when the pig approach market weight because it allows the farmer to optimise the lean meat content in the pig.

Managing liquid feeding

Compared with dry feeding, liquid feeding requires other management skills to optimise the feed intake and wastage. Of course, there is also a risk that dry fed pigs waste feed, but liquid feeding that is not adjusted correctly and in time poses a higher risk. Pig houses equipped with a liquid feeding system usually feed the pigs four times per day. The feed manager decides a feeding strategy based on what he believes is the most profitable way of feeding. The parameters that are usually adjusted are the number of feedings per day, the volume of feed offered per feeding, and time for the feed distribution.

Observations and adjustments

If the feed manager does not adjust the system meticulously, the pigs do not utilise their full genetic potential, and there is furthermore a risk of an increased waste of feed. Therefore, the feed manager must observe the pigs at least once per day to determine if the pigs can eat the volume of feed assigned to them. Based on these observations, the manager decides to increase, decrease or not change the volume of feed delivered by each valve.  The staff must observe the pigs at the same time of the day due to their diurnal behaviour. During the morning hours, the feed intake is usually lower compared with the afternoon. The feed intake pattern means that it is preferable to adjust the feed volumes based on observations made at late morning or afternoon feedings.  High temperatures during the summertime can also affect pig feed intake. High temperatures cause the pigs to be more active in the early morning hours due to relatively lower temperatures. The staff should also keep the temperature-induced behaviour changes in mind when adjusting the feed volumes.

Effect of management on feed intake

In the case of sub-optimal feeding management, where the feed volumes are not corrected at the same time or maybe not every day, the feed intake can look like something in the figure below. From the figure, it appears that the actual feed intake is probably lower than the anticipated one. Especially in the period after allocation of the grower pigs, it is a bit difficult to start them up on the liquid feed. However, after the customisation period, some managers realise that the pigs' feed intake potential is higher than expected.  

Desired feed intake in grower-finisher pigs and sub-optimal adjustments.

The feeding curve depicted in the figure is, of course not the case on every farm. Very skilled and systematically working staff can achieve a feed intake very close to the desired one. Several liquid feed equipment manufacturers have developed software that can optimise the pigs' feed intake based on data from sensors located in the troughs.  These sensors measure the time it takes the pigs to eat the feed. The feeding computer will adjust the subsequent feed volume if the pigs eat faster or slower than the pre-set time.

Efficacy of computer control

A SEGES webinar showed that computer-controlled feed adjustments produce a slightly better feed intake than highly qualified feed managers. In this way, the computer can save time for the staff, and feeding adjustments do not depend on a person that needs to be at the same time every day. It also appears that the computer regulated feed volume secures a more straight increase in feed in the first weeks after insertion. The advantages of computer-controlled feeding seem to be far more compared with a person doing the same job. However, it is still crucial that the staff observe every pig every day to check for sick pigs. And in addition, when the computer is taking over the job function, one must not forget to allocate time to control what the computer is doing.

Written by Steffen Hansen