When feeding sows, our focus should always be on each sow's health. Keeping your sows healthy will both improve their performance and reduce your production costs. When determining how to feed sows during gestation, the following overarching goals should always be top of mind.
- Meet the sows' daily nutritional requirements.
- Properly prepare sows for farrowing.
- Increase farrowing rate and piglet health.
Underfeeding sows will cost you by lowering farrowing rates and increasing mortality rates. When you overfeed sows, you are piling on unnecessary feed costs while also increasing the potential for farrowing complications. Because all stages of the reproductive cycle are interrelated, keeping the girls healthy at all times will ensure they perform well in all phases of gestation. Feeding each sow the exact amount she needs will also reduce your feed costs and costs associated with unhealthy animals. So how do we easily strike the balance between underfeeding and overfeeding sows?
Feeding Sows and Measuring Weight Gain
In order to provide each sow the daily intake she requires, many producers use visual or mechanical measures such as back fat and body condition scores. While these are great indicators of sow development, they are only educated guesses. Measuring daily sow weight gives us a better idea of how each girl is progressing through gestation.
There is great variation in weight of the girls with the same amount of back fat. Some producers have reported a 77 pound or more difference in their animals with the same body condition score. The extra feed you could be providing some sows could add up to be a 100 pound difference between her required feed intake and the actual feed she received throughout her gestation period. Imagine the impact to your bottom line when you multiply the overfeed amount for the entire barn, not to mention the impact on each sow's and her piglets' health. Feed is an expensive investment, so it is worth the time to make sure it is money well spent.
Feeding Sows with Automated Electronic Feeders
Sow weight used to be too complicated to collect and be used as a regular measurement of progression. Because there was no way to collect weights unobtrusively, it stressed the girls out. That has changed in state of the art hog barn designs. With Electronic Sow Feeding, weight monitoring scales can be implemented right into the feed system. The sow simply passes over a scale in the separation alley, causing her no stress and giving you the data you need to make informed decisions.
Collecting exact weights everyday allows you to make calculated feed decisions rather than educated guesses. After you program the system, it will read the weights and calculate how much feed the sow will need the next day. Regular weigh-ins also allow you the opportunity to spot problems before they have time to effect performance or worse you lose pigs. From a production perspective, you are also able track the history of each sow in the barn. We often say data is money in group sow housing. As you collect more and more data, you are able to see trends in performance that can be tied to feed intake, sow weights, and barn management.
Electronic sow feeders also reduce stress in group gestation pens by giving each pig her own private space to eat. She is not bothered or upset by others in what to her can be the most important activity of the day. Reducing feed related stress has proven to improve pig condition and piglet rates. With Electronic Sow Feeding and Sow Weight Monitoring built into the infrastructure of a hog barn design, you will see increased production, savings in feed, and sow health.
The future is exciting as we are working with two universities to develop better sow feeding programs that will be based upon a sow’s weight throughout her gestation cycle. Keep an eye out for our future articles!