In-house research is used to shape feeding strategies at a top pork production company.

A few of those strategies were presented at the Midwest Swine Nutrition Conference in Indianapolis recently by Bradley Wolter, director of production technology for The Maschhoffs Inc., a 51,000-sow system that produces a million hogs a year.

Wolter oversees a $2 million wean-to-finish (W-F) research farm near Carlyle, IL, that mirrors other Maschhoff units. Nearly 100% of finishing flows through W-F systems.

The basic W-F design is a 2,400-head, double-wide building with two attached 1,200-head units under one roof, but with separate ventilation, pits and load-out chutes. The latest and largest W-F barn is a 100 × 300 ft. structure that holds 7,600 head.

One strategy Wolter has studied involves overstocking the W-F barns to increase output. In unpublished data, weaned pigs were stocked 32 head/pen (6.88 sq. ft./pig) and 64 head/pen (3.44 sq. ft./pig). Feeder trough space was 2.3 in./pig for the small group and 1.14 in./pig for the double-stocked group.

Results showed overstocking for an initial eight- to 10-week period dropped average daily gain over 7%. They chose to overstock at the 64-pigs/pen rate.

Another important consideration is the amount of feeders and water drinkers to support performance. European researchers have shown an increase in feeder-related aggression and a reduction in growth rate when pigs are provided limited feeder space, says Wolter. They determined that doubling the number of pigs/pen for eight weeks, postweaning, required additional feeder trough space to maintain performance. In that study, pigs were provided 0.8 in. vs. 1.6 in. of feeder trough space/animal.

Results showed performance was similar for the first six weeks, and then growth rate dropped 5% in pigs allocated to the reduced space between six and eight weeks, postweaning.

Another study used a tube-type combination wet/dry feeder. Results suggest providing over-stocked pigs supplemental trough space (1.5 in./pig vs. 3 in./pig or four vs. two tube spaces) tends to increase growth rate during the four-week period, postweaning.

Feed form and placement were also scrutinized at the research farm. A recent study found supplemental feeding strategies, either floor feeding or use of an automated gruel feeder, reduced the antibiotic treatments given to pigs by 50% compared to using an ad-lib feeder during the initial postweaning period.

In general, a floor-feeding protocol for weanling piglets should involve a solid floor area large enough to allow all pigs within a pen access to feed, says Wolter. While the impact of floor feeding the diet in either a gruel or dry form on pig growth appears inconsistent, in practice, routine observations of piglets floor-fed multiple times per day means producers will assess their barn more frequently, he adds. It allows them to correct alterations in ventilation, clogged feeders and assure water availability during the early growth period. They feed four times per day on floor mats, postweaning.

Their results also demonstrate that morbidity rate can increase with decreases in diet complexity during the early growth period. The choice of ingredients in piglet diets is important to maximize early growth potential, and reduce the threat of health challenges or digestive disorders after weaning, notes Wolter. He advocates feeding complex diets immediately postweaning to initiate high levels of feed intake, and then quickly switching to simpler diets.

Complex diets could contain milk products, raw and cooked cereal and animal-protein based ingredients with minimal soybean meal.

Wolter has found that pigs with decreased early growth rate have compensated in the grow-finish stage when provided adequate nutrition and special resources such as feeder trough and floor space.

Feeding strategies in W-F buildings can have a significant impact on rate of growth and morbidity, he says. And certain nutritional and environmental approaches can manipulate the animal's growth curve and help reduce production costs.