Technology that will enable swine producers to cater to the specific feeding need of each individual pig will be moving into commercial trials early next year.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) dairy and swine research and development centre has been working towards the commercial development of a computerized precision feeder that will allow producers to tailor rations to each individual pig.
“One day I was with my brother, who is an engineer and a big fan of automation. I said to him, ‘why don’t we make a machine that can feed every pig individually?’ And so together we began the process to create that,” said Candido Pomar, research scientist with AAFC. “My brother developed the machine and I developed the feeding concepts.”
Pomar began the endeavour several years ago, first examining how feed can be used in the most efficient manner.
The research is being conducted on behalf of the Swine Innovation Porc, a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional team of engineers and nutritionists.
AAFC is currently in the final stages of evaluating the model, which is scheduled to move to the Prairie Swine Centre for commercial trials early next year.
With the device, each pig wears a transponder that communicates with a computer, where the system automatically collects real-time individual feed intake, body weight and growth information.
From there the feeder determines the optimal nutritional content and tailors rations to each animal.
“Every pig changes every day and every pig is different. What farmers do now is provide nutrient-dense feed to support the growth of pigs with the highest demand,” said Pomar. “If a farmer provides feed based on the needs of the pigs with the lowest demands, many pigs will not be able to meet their growth potential.”
The goal is to lower the overall consumption of protein and phosphorus, reducing the cost and environmental impact, while at the same time, maintaining maximum growth of each pig.
The precision feeder has been estimated to produce the same size and quality of carcass with approximately 10 to 15 per cent less feed cost.
“As a nutritionist, I never would have imagined that it would be possible to feed each pig individually,” said Pomar. “This completely changes how things are done and we’ve shown that the concepts work.”
The device also boasts environmental benefits with the ability to avoid excess nutrients excreted in manure. It has been demonstrated that it is possible to reduce nitrogen excretion by approximately 40 per cent.
“The research team has developed several feeder prototypes and is now at the business validation stage. It is essential to ensure that farmers have machines that are reliable and affordable,” said Pomar.
While developers are hopeful to make the feeder available commercially within the next one to two years, information gathered throughout the pro-cess has already shed light on how producers can fine tune feeding programs.