Creep feeder design can make a difference in the proportion of pigs that actually consume feed (“eaters”) and the amount of feed that is wasted.

Kansas State University (KSU) researchers have shown that piglets in the “eater” category have higher postweaning feed intakes and better growth performance. By encouraging creep-feeding behavior, more eaters can be created within a litter and postweaning performance can be improved.

Previous research has shown positive improvements on feeder visiting time and nursing pig creep feed intake when using a familiar trough or by increasing feeding space. However, those studies did not differentiate between the eaters and non-eaters within a litter.

Three Feeder Designs Tested

KSU researchers set out to evaluate the impacts that different types of creep feeders had on creating eaters. After testing three different creep feeder designs, the researchers determined a pan feeder with a hopper provided a consistent supply of feed while preventing the pigs from lying in the feeders or pushing the feed out.

After standardizing litter weight and size through crossfostering, 54 sows and their litters were divided among three experimental treatments. Each treatment was designed to test a particular type of creep feeder.

The first treatment used a rotary creep feeder. The Rotecna mini-pan, rotary creep feeder measured 10.6 in. in diameter, 34 in. in linear feeding space and 2.1 in. deep (see Photo #1).

The feeder design allows five pigs to eat at once. A six-liter capacity hopper (roughly 1.5 gal), adjustable to five different feeder gap settings, also has a curved rim and wings to separate piglets as they eat, thus reducing feed wastage. The feeder can be secured to the farrowing crate floor. Because this feeder had been used in previous creep feeding studies, it served as the control treatment in this study.

Treatment 2 used the same Rotecna mini-pan, rotary creep feeder without a hopper (see Photo #2). This feeder represents conventional bowl feeders commonly used within the pork industry.

The feeders used in Treatments 1 and 2 were placed in a location where they would be most accessible to piglets, and where sows could not urinate or defecate in the feeders.

The third treatment featured two stainless steel pan feeders 40.2-in. long, 5.3-in. wide and 1-in. deep. The twin feeder is held in place by the farrowing crate divider to allow creep feeding of pigs in adjoining farrowing crates. Each trough is 1.1-in. wide, 1-in. deep and 40.2-in. long (see Photo #3).

All piglets received a creep diet made up of 2-mm. pellets. A 1% chromium oxide dye was added to the diet in order to trace which pigs were actually eating the creep feed. The creep diet was offered ad libitum from Day 18 until weaning at 21 days of age.

Researchers placed enough creep feed in the hopper to ensure feed was always available to Treatment-1 pigs. Hopper adjustment was checked daily to allow ad-lib feeding and control feed wastage.

In Treatments 2 and 3, small amounts of creep feed were placed in the feeders whenever they were empty. The feeders were checked every two hours, for 12 hours each day. The frequency of adding creep feed was recorded for every crate.

The sows in this study were ad libitum fed the same lactation diet throughout the experiment. Nipple drinkers provided sows with free access to water, while litters had free access to water bowls.

Piglets were individually weighed at birth, at 18 days and again at 21 days of age. The amount of creep feed offered was weighed daily. Creep feed not consumed at weighing time was collected using a mini shop-vac and weighed.

Fecal samples were taken twice from all piglets using sterile swabs — between three and 12 hours before weaning — for all treatments in order to determine if the pigs had been eating the dyed creep feed. Piglets testing negative on the first fecal sampling were sampled again 9 to 12 hours after the first sampling. Piglets were categorized as “eaters” if the fecal sample was colored green in either or both samplings.

Sows were weighed after farrowing and again at weaning. Sow feed intake was recorded weekly to calculate total and average daily feed intake. Table 1 outlines feed intake and sow weight loss during the experiment.

There were no significant differences in pig and litter weights at weaning among litters using the different types of creep feeders (Table 2). Total gains and daily gains of pigs and litters were similar across treatments. However, litters using the rotary feeder with the hopper had 2.7 times lower total creep disappearance than litters using the rotary feeder without the hopper and the pan feeder (Figure 1).

The researchers say a lack of differences in pig and litter growth rates among the experimental treatments suggests pigs with access to the rotary feeders without a hopper and the pan feeders were wasting quite a bit of creep feed. While both of those feeders made feed more accessible to piglets when compared to the feeder with the hopper, they also allowed piglets to root feed out and to lie in the feeder.

The conical shape, curved rim and wings of the feeder with hopper prevented piglets from rooting, standing over or pushing creep feed out of the troughs. The hopper was also adjusted daily to manage the amount of feed that flowed out of the gap, thus controlling the level of feed in the trough.

Feeder Type Affects ‘Eaters’

While the results showed no differences in pig and litter weaning weights among the three feeder designs, the type of creep feeder did influence the proportion of eaters created among piglets (Figure 2).

The higher rate of eaters created using the rotary feeder with the hopper may be a function of both feeder design and feed consumption. The researchers speculated that the design of the feeder with the hopper kept pigs from wasting feed, while ensuring feed was continuously available in the troughs.

The lower rate of eaters in litters using the rotary feeder without the hopper and the pan feeder also support the theory that more creep feed was wasted than consumed.

Greater accessibility and increased feeding spaces resulted in higher creep feed disappearance, but did not produce more eaters within a litter. This is contrary to the assumption made by previous studies, where increased feeding space and accessibility was thought to encourage more piglets to imitate others at the feeder and stimulate initial creep feed intake. The lower number of eaters in this study suggests that less creep feed was available in these feeders for piglets to consume in appreciable amounts, researchers explain. They speculate that the pigs may be wasting feed faster than they are able to consume it when using certain types of creep feeders.

Last in the Series

The third and final research report in this series on creep feeding experiments will appear in the next edition of National Hog Farmer.

KSU researchers involved in these research efforts included Rommel Sulabo; Mike Tokach; E. J. Wiedemann; Jim Nelssen; Steve Dritz, DVM; Robert Goodband and Joel DeRouchey. For more information, contact Sulabo at rsulabo@ksu.edu.