If sow producers really want to know what’s affecting their bottom line, they should get down to the slat level. That’s where the less-obvious feed-related factors could be stealing return on investment.

“Everything that happens to your sows can impact feed consumption and use,” said Robert Drew, sow management specialist with Nedap Livestock Management, North America. “To make positive, lasting impacts on your bottom line, look at your management practices from your sows’ point of view. What makes them content, comfortable and productive?”

Feed accounts for 60-70% of pork production costs. Related expenses include feed handling and delivery as well as storage space for multiple diets. Sometimes, feed management basics are overlooked.

“Since feed is a large percentage of input costs, it’s good to review your feed management practices often,” Drew said. “Evaluating data will show you ways to maximize your operation’s return on investment.”

Nedap Livestock Management offered these tips to fine-tune feed efficiency and utilization on your operation:

  • Reduce environmental stressors
  • Adjust rations based on need
  • Monitor feed ingredients and feed quality
  • Measure individual sow feed intake
  • Check water daily
  • Manage the feed bin
  • Adhere to biosecurity protocols

Reduce environmental stressors

Pigs respond quickly to environmental stress, and their responses can negatively affect performance. Manage your buildings from your sows’ perspective.

Consider these questions to “put yourself in their hooves”: Are your sows calm? What disrupts them? How is the ventilation in the building? Is the temperature optimal? Can your sows eat without interruption and without having to guard their feed from other sows? If you’re using an electronic sow feeding system, does it have forward exits to minimize interactions between fed and unfed sows?

Adjust rations based on need

Not all sows have the same nutritional requirements. Precise, individual feeding based on parity, condition and stage of gestation or lactation ensures that sows get the correct nutrition based on their needs.

The ability to feed different diets during gestation is advantageous. One of the most accurate ways to meet each sow’s requirements is by collecting individual feed data and reviewing it with your nutritionist.

Monitor feed ingredients and feed quality

From pellet quality to particle size, everything about feed matters. Feed quality and freshness can affect how the sow uses (or wastes) her feed.

Testing feed on a regular basis ensures that you are achieving your nutritionist’s specific recommendations. Monitoring for unwanted mycotoxins also gives you the best chance to maximize productivity in your herd and avoid health-related challenges.

Measure individual sow feed intake

If a sow hasn’t eaten, chances are that there’s a problem. Changes in individual feed consumption can help you recognize more widespread challenges, including: pen or herd health problems, poor water quality or availability, ventilation challenges, feed quality issues and more. Identifying the source of a problem quickly can help you adjust management protocols to get your sows’ productivity and health back on track — and help your operation stay profitable.

Check water daily

Water is vital for sows to utilize nutrients during digestion and for their overall performance and health. Don’t let water be the “forgotten nutrient.” Make sure your sows have easy access to high-quality, clean water 24/7 at the recommended flow rate of four cups per minute. Test flow quickly by checking if you can fill a one-cup measure in 15 seconds.

Manage the feed bin

Most of us have probably checked feed levels by throwing a rock at the side of the bin, but that’s not the best way to manage your farm’s costliest input. Look inside for any leaks or to see if excessive condensation is creating hang-up and compaction, which would quickly lead to moldy feed. Routinely empty feed bins and, where possible, rotate bins to ensure that feed delivery into the barn is always fresh.

Adhere to biosecurity protocols

Keeping out disease will keep your sows healthy and using feed efficiently. Develop a biosecurity plan with your veterinarian to prevent exposure to foreign pathogens. Make sure all employees and delivery drivers understand and follow your protocols.