A well-designed feeding program can help you meet your operational goals for sow farm efficiency and profit by minimizing feed waste and maximizing sow productivity.
An effective sow feeding program starts with breeding gilts within the right window of weight and feeding them according to PIC recommendations during their first gestation. This can help maximize the number of sows in ideal condition at first farrowing.
Additionally, knowing and maintaining an ideal sow body condition score is a key strategic area for long-term success. The body condition of sows in the barn is closely related to the profitability of the sow farm because it impacts sow longevity and reproductive performance. Keeping sows in the ideal body condition – not too fat and not too thin – is in the best interest of your bottom line. A successful feeding program includes recording data and linking body condition to feeding so you can correctly adjust each sow’s feed ration.
Efficiency and economics are two reasons to implement a feeding program that focuses on feeding each sow to achieve and maintain ideal body condition. The best practices for starting a successful feeding program are education, patience and recordkeeping.
Educate sow farm employees
Your team is a key part of a successful sow feeding program. They not only need to understand what to do but how their work is part of a bigger process and a bigger goal. It’s important to educate workers who interact daily with sows.
“One day I was working with an employee on using calipers to measure body condition score, and the individual said, ‘So, you don’t want fat sows?’” says Jerry Purvis, feed operations director for NG Purvis Farms. “It hit me that his perception of a healthy animal was a bigger animal. In his mind, he wasn’t overfeeding the sows. He was doing what he thought was correct.”
Sergio Canavate, DVM, director, PIC Applied Female Reproduction, recommends seeking feedback from farm employees.
“We need to say, ‘This is important, and we need you to try it,’” adds Canavate. “We might get negative feedback from workers at first. But we need to listen to them, understand any limitations and constraints during the process and answer their questions and help them feel involved.”
Sow feeding program implementation takes time
Patience is important when starting a sow feeding program. It will take 20 weeks for the first group to make a complete cycle through the program. If you want the entire sow farm to go through the program, it will take approximately 40 weeks. Proper implementation requires a slow change in feeding to safely improve the body condition of sows. It’s critical to the health of the animals and the long-term success of the program to allow the full time to see if the program is working.
“We need at least one full reproductive cycle to start seeing or start evaluating the results from the first groups that were put into the feeding program,” says Ning Lu, Ph.D., PIC nutritionist. “If you want to evaluate the entire herd, you need a much longer time to make sure every sow has been in that process for at least one reproductive cycle.”
Measure and record sow feeding data
To make sure the program is working or to know how to fix it when it isn’t working, you’ll need to have data to compare and review. Keeping consistent records of body condition and feeding is critical.
“If the percentage of sows in ideal condition is increasing and the percentage of the fat or thin sows is decreasing during gestation, body condition management is moving in the right direction,” says Lu. “Without monitoring the data, it’s really hard to say you are going in the right or wrong direction.”
Keeping records of sow body condition throughout the reproductive cycle can be especially helpful. You’ll be able to see if your breeding groups are in the proper body condition and, if not, determine how you can correct the issue.
“There are four critical points to measure body condition: Weaning, pregnancy check, 90 days of gestation and at farrowing room entry,” says Juan Orozco, PIC Technical Services manager. “You see the evolution if you are doing the right thing. Or, if not, you can determine if you need to adjust the feed boxes or make changes to nutritional formulations. But if you don’t have any data, what you don’t measure, you don’t control and you cannot improve.”
The correct tools can help you use these best practices to successfully implement a sow feeding program. PIC has developed tools to get you and your operation started.
Download the PIC Sow Feeding Program Implementation Tool and other tools here.