Shopping for new feeders is not as easy as it seems. You do the research on multiple feeders, and everything makes sense why they should work well. You choose a feeder that looks most promising, excited for it to make your life and your staff’s lives easier, only to find out later a design flaw that turns into a bigger headache than ever anticipated.
All too often we make decisions on the overall message without looking at the details. We’ve been there. Pork producer and PigEasy founder Dave Klocke dealt with the daily headaches of hand-feeding sows, then later, headaches with ad lib dispensers, before getting the idea of developing his own feeder.
There are certain details that shouldn’t be overlooked when choosing an ad-lib feeder. Read on for our non-negotiable list from experience:
1. Wet/Dry vs Dry Feeder
When considering a new ad-lib feeding system, it’s important to decipher whether or not the feeder has an option to be wet/dry. Some ad lib feeders set up the dispenser in the middle so you don’t have the option to add a water pipe and other dispensers are positioned toward the bottom and would become plugged if you converted to wet/dry.
We find wet/dry feeding to be the key component in regulating how much the sow dispenses into the bowl. Without the water pipe, sows have a tendency to layer their feed because they are “always going for the fresh stuff” and will never clean their bowl.
Wet/dry feeders, when set up correctly, force the sow to clean up her feed with every drink.
Greatly reducing the number of dirty feeders your staff has to clean out each day can be an easily visible return on investment. Let’s pretend you have 18 rooms of 24 and your staff cleans out 2 feeders per room. That’s about 36 feeders to clean out at day. If each feeder takes roughly 2 minutes to clean from start to finish, you’re looking at over one hour a day your staff is collectively spending cleaning sow feeders. In just wages, you could be spending $7,000-$10,000 a year cleaning out feeders. That’s not including the cost of wasted feed.
What’s worse, what if the feeders AREN’T getting cleaned out? The implication of a dirty feeder is something that’s difficult to quantify, but easy to understand. We all know sows have an extremely strong sense of smell. If they have a dirty bowl full of stale or rotten feed, how much is that inhibiting her from eating as much feed as she wants? And then how much does that cost you in wean weights and in productivity with her next parity?
At the end of the day, a bowl that cleans itself is invaluable. “A wet/dry feeder, when that is the sow’s only water source, will guarantee much less bowls to clean while maximizing intake,” says Dave.
2. Option for adjustment
To combat dirty lactation feeders, a number of ad-lib feeders have an adjustment option. While that may seem like a feature, Dave has some reservations.
“When employees see a bowl full a feed, we adjust the ad lib feeder down to avoid waste. However, an unintended consequence of adjusting down a feeder is we also adjust down her ability to maximize intake.” Klocke questions. “Also, will that feeder get adjusted back to a more open setting when the next sow arrives? It’s safe to assume out of the hundreds of farrowing feeders in a sow farm, very little ever get adjusted. If they do get adjusted, we need to ask ourselves, ‘Is feed waste more important than maximizing intake?’
“A feeder that doesn’t need adjustment, one that doesn’t leak or over-dispense feed is the best option for feeding sows in lactation,” Dave stated.
3. Dispenser Location on the feeder
Another minor detail that can turn into a major headache is the location of the ad lib feed dispenser on the feeder. Ad lib feed dispensers come in all shapes/sizes and mounting options. However, mounting at the center of the feeder can become a concern.
First, when the dispenser is mounted in the center of the feeder, you may have a more difficult time viewing the feeder bottom and could miss signs of problems with the feeder or the sow’s feed intake. If it’s hard to see, it’s more likely to be missed.
Next, let’s say there is a problem with the sow and you need to open the head gate which happens to have a feeder and drop tube full of feed. Swinging open the head gate and essentially moving the tube full of feed, usually results in spilled feed everywhere.
Dave prefers an ad lib feed dispenser that installs on the hinge side of the feeder so you can easily see what’s going on in the bottom of the feeder, and the drop tube remains stationary if you have to open the head gate.
4. Feeder bottom design
“Sow feeders were originally developed decades ago for hand feeding once or twice a day,” says Dave. “They did the job for hand feeding, but aren’t made for ad-lib feeding. With ad lib feed dispensers, the sow drops a small amount of feed until she’s satisfied. Dropping a small amount of feed into a large bowl increases the likelihood of feed build up in the corners.”
Consider the feeder design from the sow’s perspective. Sows have to get their large jowls over the opening of the feeder and really can’t work their way up the back side of the inside.
Make sure the feeder has a lower access point and a concentrated bottom so when the sow dispenses feed, it’s all going to fall toward the center.
5. Does the dispenser need to be disassembled during wash out time?
When pigs are weaned and the sows head back to breeding, now begins the process of preparing the room for the next group. Something to consider when choosing a feeder and/or ad-lib dispenser is the wash out process.
Consider the time and effort it will take to disassemble and clean dispensers if it’s required. Is that added step a feasible task to accomplish in addition to the rest of the staff’s work load?
6. Hopper Capacity and position
If you plan to hand feed into a hopper, you’ll need to look into the hopper capacity and design when choosing a feeder.
Ensure the hopper holds over an entire day’s ration for two reasons: 1) feeding only once a day is most efficient for your staff, 2) the sow should never run out of feed and if it holds more than enough for the entire day, you won’t be walking into a room of hungry sows in the morning.
Ad-lib is short for ad-libitum and its literal definition is “as much and as often as desired.”
Running out of feed is counter to the benefits of an ad lib feeder. Always having fresh feed in lactation also trains the sow that a staff member walking through the room does not mean it is meal time. By keeping the feeders full, you will avoid a room full of sows jumping up every time you open the door.
Feeder draftsmen have a tall list of priorities to accomplish when designing an ad lib feeder. They need to create something that is easy to manufacture and works. But there are important details to feeders that only a pork producer who has years of experience with feeders will really care about. When choosing a feeder, keep all these details in mind to avoid headaches down the road.
For information on our pork producer developed feeder, visit our MealMeter in Lactation page.