Once in place, most producers don’t give much thought to their feeders. As long as feed is flowing through and pigs are growing, the feeders are working. Periodic flow adjustments are made as pigs grow to heavier weights, but feeders aren’t typically part of an operation’s performance review.
“Most producers expect their feeders to last 10 to 15 years or more,” says Mike Brumm, Brumm Consultancy in Mankato, Minnesota. “If they’re made of good-quality metal and craftsmanship, and installed correctly, the feeders may still look good, but they may no longer fit the pig.”
That reality is becoming increasingly apparent as feeders installed during the first 1990s building boom are now 20 to 25 years old. The width and depth of the feeder hole are incorrect for the size of pigs being marketed today and certainly for pigs 10 to 15 years from now.
“Producers need to think ahead,” Brumm says. “All evidence suggests that we will continue to increase the sale weight of pigs.”
Looking at hog market weights back to 1977, Brumm found a nearly straight trend line of carcass weights increasing 1.27 pounds a year through 2014. “For people who say we’ll top out— all packer-owned pigs are consistently running 4 to 5 pounds heavier than producer-owned pigs,” he adds. “That pretty much tells you what’s going to happen.”
Sizing up Feeders
Getting the right fit at the feeder for growing pigs is important because feed drives gain and performance. What’s more, $10,000 in feed can easily flow through a single feeder in a year, so it pays to get it right.
“Feed is the No. 1 expense in finishing out pigs, and feeders are the No. 1 control point,” Brumm says. “Yes, a producer’s purchasing strategies can influence feed costs, but the cost of feed consumption is all controlled at the feeder.”
Mike Tokach, swine nutritionist at Kansas State University, advises producers to do their homework to determine the best long-term fit for their system, management style and animals. “Historically, producers have looked at feeders as a big expense,” he adds. “So, it’s tempting to opt for a low-cost feeder. But think about how many tons of feed run through that feeder over time. You want to put in the right feeders initially, so you don’t have to replace them later.”
Sizing up feeder design includes how the feed is presented to the pig, the feeder-hole space, feed storage capacity and ability to adjust feed levels in the pan. Many factors influence feed efficiency, but feeder design affects the pig’s access to feed and feed wastage. As Brumm points out, if a feeder helps lower feed conversion from 2.75 to 2.72, that
reduction could save one-half ton of feed annually.
Providing Quality Space
The point is to provide a quality eating space for the pig. That starts with the feeder-hole width, which should be 10 percent greater than the shoulder width of the largest pig to be fed, according to an Iowa State University white paper. For market-weight pigs that means providing at least 14 inches, because shoulder width is a limiting factor.
“A feeder that has a 15-inch space will handle a pig well over 300 pounds,” Tokach says. “Comparatively, a 12-inch space doesn’t fit a pig very well after it reaches 250 pounds.”
Feeder depth is the second dimension that deserves more attention. Bottom line, if today’s pigs are wider at the shoulder and heavier at the final weight, their heads are bigger too. That means the feeder space has to be deeper. Past research has identified 8 to 12 inches as the range for feeder-pan depth. However, Brumm says that 10 inches is today’s minimum, and 12 inches is preferred. He points out that the depth for wet/dry feeders is less precise because the pig can eat from either the feed-shelf or the pan.
Another aspect to consider is dividers between feeder spaces. “That’s something of a preference, but the data is clear that full dividers allow better use of feeder spaces,” Tokach says. If there’s no divider, pigs may stand at an angle and cover up the other spaces, turning a three-hole feeder into a two-hole or even a one-hole feeder. This is especially true if pigs are too big to eat from the pan properly.
Dividers also allow for uninterrupted eating, which helps reduce feed waste. Anytime a pig backs away from the feeder with a mouthful of feed, wastage increases, says Jon Bergstrom, swine nutritionist with DSM Nutritional Products.
A bonus of the solid dividers is the added bracing, making the feeder stronger. “You start getting feeders with 400 to 500 pounds of feed in them and they need additional support,” Brumm adds. Of course, there are choices to make between wet/dry and conventionaldry feeders. “There are pros and cons to both,” Tokach says. “But whichever you choose, the newer designs, with more space for the pigs and divided feeding space, will pay dividends in feed efficiency.”
Other Issues to Consider
When assessing feeders, other issues to consider include the adjustment mechanism, which needs to be quick, easy and accurate. “A person needs to be able to adjust feeders as he or she walks through the barn,” says Tokach. “It should be easy to raise the feed gates, clean underneath and reset. It’s equally important that the adjustment mechanism is durable and designed so that the pigs can’t adjust it themselves.”
Being able to standardize adjustments is a bonus, Bergstrom adds. He offers these recommendations for feeder-pan coverage:
• Dry Feeders: 50 percent to 60 percent for pigs < 150 pounds; 30 percent to 50 percent for pigs > 150 pounds.
• Wet/Dry Feeders: 65 percent to 85 percent for pigs < 200 pounds; 50 percent to 65 percent for pigs > 200 pounds.
Brumm recommends using a camera to simplify this task. “Find a feeder with the coverage you want. Take a picture. Get it laminated and post it in the barn,” he says. “So the person in the barn can look and compare easily to ensure the correct setting.”
Feeder adjustments need to be checked daily because the flowability of ingredients change, diets change; perhaps the mill re-grooved its rollers or changed screens. “You can find a million reasons to work on feeder adjustment,” Brumm adds.
Finally, consider the storage capacity to prevent out-of-feed events. Bergstrom recommends at least 12 hours, or 3 pounds per pig, of feed storage capacity in the hopper.
If feeders placed today are expected to last at least 10 years, what might that market hog look like?
Brumm has modeled market weights into 2025, using Federally Inspected barrow/gilt weights and the trend of 1.27-pounds annual gain. “If that trend continues, the average live-weight will be 293 pounds for the average of all pigs slaughtered in the U.S.,” he says. “That’s a big number.” That’s also why shoulder and head space is so critical and why it’s important to think ahead.
“If a producer has a barn with 10-, 15-, 20-year-old feeders, it would be beneficial to replace those with a newer design,” Bergstrom says. “It wouldn’t take long to recover the cost with less feed waste and improved efficiencies.”
How Much Feed Runs Through a Feeder?
Whether it involves corn, soybean meal or ingredient prices, pork producers keep a close eye on their pricing options. The feeder’s role in the equation tends to be taken for granted, yet the volume impact should not be ignored. Mike Brumm, Brumm Consultancy, offers this example:
• A barn that’s 50-feet wide with 33 pigs per pen = 66 pigs per double-sided feeder.
• Figure 225 pounds of grow/finish gain, a 2.75 feed conversion and 2.6 turns a year.
• That’s 66 x 225 x 2.75 x 2.6 = 106,178 ÷ 2,000 = 53 tons of feed flowing through a single feeder annually.
• Average feed cost at $200 per ton = $10,600 in annual feed expenses that are controlled by one feeder.
“If feedstuffs or ingredients get higher priced, that cost gets bigger faster,” Brumm says. “Producers need to pay more attention to their feeders.”
Ask yourself, what has remained the same within your pork operation compared to 10, 15, 20 years ago? I’m betting not much.
With every passing year, technology leaps forward and science offers more insights. Yet it’s not uncommon for a swine unit to be using the same feeders that were installed 10 or more years ago. But do they still fit today’s pig, or equally important—tomorrow’s pig?
Feeders that don’t fit the pig not only increase feed wastage, but they prevent pigs from meeting their growth and performance potential—both of which increase production costs.
At Farmweld, we’ve taken the trend toward larger pigs into account. Our feeders meet the eating-space dimensions discussed in this newsletter. Being able to adjust feeder settings quickly and easily ensures feed keeps flowing to meet the pigs’ needs. That’s what the Farmweld team had in mind when designing the company’s patent-pending R Adjust™. Available on all of our hog feeders, R Adjust is not restricted by clicks so it offers infinite settings. Because the R Adjust is calibrated on each feeder to ensure consistency, it allows you to standardize settings within growth stages across an entire operation.
Of course, bigger pigs increase equipment wear and tear. High-quality materials and durability are priorities in designing and manufacturing every Farmweld feeder. When considering feeders, evaluate your production system and management style, the diets, stocking densities and genetics, just to name a few. The important thing is to plan for the future as much as for today.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-EAT-PORK (328-7675) or use the contact form or LiveChat on our website.
– Frank Brummer, President, Farmweld, Inc.