Optimizing pig feeding benefits producers and the environment

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The precision feeding machine recognizes each pig that comes to the feeder from an electronic chip implanted in the animal’s ear. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada photo)
The precision feeding machine recognizes each pig that comes to the feeder from an electronic chip implanted in the animal’s ear. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada photo)

A technological innovation for swine farms will soon help producers reduce pollutant emissions to the environment and lower their feed costs at the same time. A team at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) Research and Development Centre in Sherbrooke, Quebec, has figured out how to maximize use of the nutrients fed to swine while avoiding overfeeding.

Feed costs generally account for 60 to 75 percent of livestock production costs. To ensure that all pigs get enough to eat, producers adjust feed rations to accommodate those animals with the highest demand. Since nutritional requirements vary widely from one pig to another, many receive more nutrients than they actually need.

The new swine-feeding technology, known as “custom feeding” or “precision feeding,” delivers exactly the right ration to each pig in the herd at the right time every day. The machine used for this system is automatic and intelligent. It can recognize each pig that comes to the feeder from an electronic chip implanted in the animal’s ear. A scale in front of each feeder weighs the pig each time it eats. This enables the machine to calculate a customized ration carefully tailored to the animal’s individual growth profile, and to supply the ration that best meets its needs.

“Fed by means of precision feeding, most pigs reduce their nutrient consumption by 25 percent without affecting their growth. It thus becomes possible to produce meat at the same high quality but at a lower cost,” explained AAFC research scientist Candido Pomar.

The precision feeding system lowers feed costs by $8 per pig. For protein and phosphorus, this means a reduction equivalent to 23 kg of soybean meal and 0.6 kg of phosphate per animal over the course of the growth period.

The cutting-edge technology has benefits for the environment. Reducing the amount of excess nutrients fed to pigs also reduces the amount of pollutants they excrete that can affect soil and water. For nitrogen and phosphorus, the two main pollutants emitted by livestock, excretions can be reduced by up to 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

This innovation is the result of close collaboration between the AAFC research station in Shebrooke, Quebec, and the University of Lleida, Spain. A number of universities and scientific organizations in Canada, the U.S., Brazil, and Europe also contributed to its development.

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