In the first of a series of three articles on liquid feeding, Steve Stokes of Hampshire Feedings Systems (HFS) considers some of the advantages of liquid diets compared to dry feeding
It’s not rocket science to suggest that bringing down the cost of production is a key factor in maximising profits, and addressing the largest on-farm cost, feed (which can account for up to 70% of input costs), is of major importance.
At HFS, we believe that liquid feeding is a proven method of driving down feed costs. Our 30-plus years of experience suggests the systems are not as complicated and expensive as generally perceived, and it’s also much more flexible than simply being used to feed cheap by-products on large, modern units.
Liquid feed provides the animal with all its nutritional and water needs in one helping that’s thoroughly mixed before being presented to the pig, generally in the proportions 75% water to 25% feed. Below, we look at 12 distinct advantages compared to dry feeding that come as standard with liquid feeding.
It’s more natural
Pretty much everything we eat contains between 60 to 80% water, even the Sunday roast, and we still have a drink with our meal. However, even though pigs have the same requirements and their intestinal tract is similar to ours, when they are dry fed the moisture content is only about 15%. With liquid feeding, the pigs don’t need frequent water visits to eat.
It’s easier to eat
Our breakfast cereal (porridge is a good example) is similar to the pig’s dry feed, but we add the milk before we eat it, making it similar to liquid feed. As an experiment, try eating your cereal as it comes out the packet and have the milk separate, in a glass. You’ll find it’s quite difficult to eat; in fact, it’s hard work, and after a few mouthfuls you will be creating saliva to swallow. As another example of this, have you ever tried to see how many crackers you can eat without taking a drink! So, why do we expect pigs to do this. And remember, the pig’s water (our glass of milk) can be away from the feed, sometimes the other side of the pen.
Wet/dry feeders and the practice of adding water in the farrowing sow’s trough do help the situation by creating a sort of ill mixed mash/gruel that makes it easier for the pig to eat their feed, but it’s still not your breakfast cereal. The pigs will eat more with liquid feeding as it’s much easier to eat.
There’s better nutrient up-take
Liquid feed is actually better for the pig digestion system as it’s absorbed more efficiently in the small intestine simply because it’s less abrasive than dry feed. Research shows that the structure on the internal surfaces of the small intestine on the villi and crypt are better maintained when the pig is liquid fed. This promotes improved FCR due to better feed utilisation.
There are more nutrients available
Adding water to feed actually modifies the nutrient value, making more available to the pig by activating natural enzymes and creating spontaneous fermentation. Consequently, liquid feed rations are modified to the farmer’s cost advantage. In effect, this lowers the ration costs as more nutrients are available.
It’s more palatable
These enzyme and fermentation actions reduce the pH and break open starches that not only bring out flavours, but create acids that also add to improving the taste. Your pigs will want to eat more as it tastes good.
Better data recording
The simple operation of pushing (pumping) the liquid feed fast to the pigs, as opposed to dry feed that’s slowly pulled (augered), gives far greater flexibility of feed delivery to the pigs.
The feed is stored away from the pigs and is only pumped to the feed trough when required, making recording of feed to each trough very easy. This provides accurate data on when and what feed the pig has asked for and got, presenting the farmer with detailed information that cannot be obtained by any other means.
Although the data is recorded in 1kg steps, it actually represents 250g of dry feed, making the information extremely precise. This data keeps you in control by showing exactly what’s fed.
It’s easy to control
The accurate trough-by-trough or per pig feed-dispensing mechanism makes adhering to a feeding scale very easy, and of course extremely accurate. This is very important when feeding stock that require control over their nutrient intake, like finishers and breeding stock for example. This can be very difficult and complicated with any other feeding method. Using liquid feeding, tight control over intakes can, for example, be used to control grading.
You can feed on demand
The unique feeding-on-pig-demand technique of delivering feed to the trough as asked for by the animal creates a stimulus, with the noise and smell of the feed entering the trough prompting the pig to eat more. This really comes into its own for feeding growing and farrowing sows, where maximum intakes are desired at certain times. High feed intakes are possible by feeding little and often.
It’s ideal for home mixing . . .
As the feed rations can be prepared in the liquid feed tank, home mixing is made easily achievable, and is very simple. It’s ideal for utilising your own feed components.
. . . And for feeding by-products
Of course there’s the high-profile advantage of being able to utilise low-cost feed products derived mainly from the food, beverage and alcohol industries. Basically, any food product can be fed through a liquid feeding system providing it’s legal to do so and edible/acceptable to the pig. This can result in significant feed cost reductions.
It’s easy to match nutrients to the pigs
Liquid feeding methods make it easy to deliver many different feed rations to match the nutritional requirements of the pig. These can be formulated to suit the pig’s weight or breeding cycle to ensure that the correct ration is always fed. Naturally, this results in optimum growth and margins.
Maximise your feed biosecurity
Having the feed in a liquid suspension enables the feed to produce a lactic acid fermentation (the acid in yoghurt) that’s able to reduce the pH of the ration to about 3.5. This not only improves the taste, but more importantly makes it impossible for any food-borne organisms to survive as they can’t tolerate acidity below a pH of 4. Table 1 shows the pH tolerances for a range of nasties including Salmonella, E coli and Campylobacter, while the red area is where fermented liquid feed sits.
Many of the foods/drinks we consume have low pH, for example: yoghurt (lactic acid at 3.0); Cola (phosphoric acid at 2.5); lemon juices (citric acid at 2.0); and vinegar (acetic acid at 2.2). Some we tolerate and like to consume lots, whereas others we use as condiments. Either way, these low pH feeds result in a healthier pig and carcase.