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Fibre could be key to reducing sow aggression

Changes to swine nutrition must benefit the producer’s bottom line, not just increase a barn’s throughput

Changes are coming to Manitoba’s hog barns, and for Denise Beaulieu that means it’s time to revaluate swine nutrition.

With hog prices improving and feed costs declining, the Prairie Swine Centre nutrition expert said pork producers should be looking at new input models and investigating ways to increase net profits through feed efficiency.

“For the past several years we’ve been focused on reducing diet costs, and one way of doing that has been to reduce dietary energy, and all of our models for several years now have shown that it pays to reduce dietary energy content… even if the pigs didn’t grow quite so fast, you could decrease costs significantly,” she told a group of farmers who gathered in Portage la Prairie for a producer meeting in late March.

But in today’s market, increasing a barn’s throughput may be more valuable than eking out savings on feed costs.

“It may pay to be increasing the growth rate of those pigs, even if it costs a little more in feed,” she said.

Rapid change

Prices are changing so rapidly, the Swine Centre is having to update its models on an almost weekly basis, Beaulieu said, adding that “it’s been a long time since we could say things are changing so much for the better.”

Options for speeding pig growth can include adding co-products, increasing energy density or aiming for the optimal particle size of 600 microns.

“Some people are saying you can go a lot lower than that, but it depends on the fibre content of your rations, certainly if you’re increasing fibre content you could go lower than that,” the swine nutritionist said.

From the Alberta Farmer Express website: People, not systems, the key to successful group sow housing

That is, if the cost of getting that smaller feed particle doesn’t outweigh the expected increase in net returns. While a smaller particle size may be easier for a hog to digest and could increase energy efficiency, it could also lead to an increase in waste.

If you get bridging in your bins and feeder, you’ve gone too small with your particle size, Beaulieu said.

Ongoing research into sow nutrition for group housing may also change how producers feed their animals.

“We’re very interested in the effects of behaviour and nutrition, if we’re in groups,” the nutritionist said. “How can we feed those animals so they’re more comfortable? They’re only fed once a day; we know they’re hungry and what we’d like to see them do is eat, then go and lay down.”

Experiment

This summer, the Prairie Swine Centre will begin an experiment that looks at the impact of dietary fibre and sow behaviour, particularly aggression.

But the benefits of fibre aren’t so much tied to an ability to keep a physical feeling of fullness in the gut, but to a chemical signal created as the feed ferments in the pig’s lower gut.

“She feels full longer, and we think this is due to… fermentation in the large intestine and the actual chemical signals going back to the brain,” Beaulieu said.

More research is needed, she added.

However, if producers are going to make any major changes to swine rations, she advises that they look at their records closely and make sure the changes are right for their farm and their herd.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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