Efficient Feed Usage

Number 18 in the Action for Productivity series from BPEX offers practical advice on how to get the best from the feed - from design of the feeding system to hygiene tips.
calendar icon 29 January 2009
clock icon 8 minute read

Feed costs have risen to represent nearly 80% of the variable costs of producing a pig and over 50 per cent of total costs. Consequently any fluctuation in feed prices has a greater impact on production costs and profitability than any other single factor. While it may be possible to decrease the cost of production (COP) by reducing input prices, e.g. switching to a cheaper ration or purchasing in larger quantities, it can also be achieved through simple practical actions to minimise feed wastage and to improve the efficiency of utilisation.

Cost of producing a pig in 2007

Management Guidelines

Around 10 per cent of feed may be 'wasted' on a typical farrow to finish unit. Improve or start recording growth and feed conversion ratio (FCR) in all stages of production to allow better decision making. Consider each of the following areas to reduce wastage and improve efficiency on a regular basis, e.g. quarterly, as a team.

Circular feeder

Drinker sited too close to feeder and in the corner of the pen

25 per cent coverage of the feeder trough

Adjusting feeder flow rate

Feeding space

  • Enough space must be provided for every pig within the group to feed (Table 1)
  • Feeder space requirement per pig depends on pig size and feeding regime, e.g. ad lib or restrict fed; liquid, pellet or meal; and feeder design, including header barrier provision (Table 1)
  • More space is required per pig when restrict feeding compared with ad lib as all pigs need to be able to feed at the same time
  • More space is also required per pig where hoppers have no, or only partial head barriers between spaces
  • Eating time is slower for meal than pellets and hence where pigs are meal fed, more space is required; pellets require more space than ad lib liquid feeding
  • With circular feeders the number of pigs per pig space can generally be increased because of the greater space allowance at the shoulder
  • Watch the pigs feeding, looking out for signs of crowding around the feeders, if this occurs more space may be required
  • Provide extra portable hoppers when the numbers of pigs in the pen is higher than usual
  • Evidence of ear biting or fresh shoulder scars may be the result of fighting for space around the feeder (or drinking point) indicating insufficient feeding space and/or that hopper placement/access is inadequate
  • Ensure that the hopper type is appropriate for the size of pig, e.g. do not use grower hoppers for finishers.

Feeder placement

  • Placement is as critical as feeder space in ensuring that all pigs within a group have access to feed
  • Hoppers placed too close to a pen corner can be easily 'blocked' by a dominant pig
  • Feeders should be located far enough from drinkers to ensure that dominant pigs must move away to drink, providing opportunities for less dominant pigs to access feeders, but not so far as to cause major disturbance eg place within 1–2 metres
  • To reduce the risk of fouling in the feeders they should not be sited in the dunging area
  • Feeders should be situated so that feed is protected from rain, birds and vermin
  • Ensure that feeders can be easily inspected.
Table 1. Feeder space for pigs at different weights
(Source: Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Pigs (Defra) and Garth Pig Stockmanship Standards)
Weight of pig Trough/hopper length/pig space (kg) (mm)
Restrict fed Ad lib fed
5 100 75
10 130 33
15 150 38
35 200 50
60 240 60
90 280 70
120 300 75

Feeder flow rates

  • Feeders should be checked daily to ensure that they are working correctly and that feed is available
  • Dry feed flow rates should be set to maintain intake but reduce wastage, providing about 25 per cent coverage of the feeder trough, depending on the hopper
  • Flow rates may need to be frequently adjusted as the pigs grow
  • Ensure even distribution along the length of the feeder trough.

Bagged feed should be stored in suitable dry conditions

Feed wastage is expensive

Feed quality

  • The presence of dust,'fines' or lumps of clogged feed will affect flow rates and reduce feed intake
  • Regular checks should be made to see if the hopper or auger mechanism is damaging/crushing the feed or affecting the pellet size, increasing wastage.


  • Clean and inspect feed bins regularly for signs of damage and leakage
  • Check that all bins are correctly and easily identifiable to ensure correct deliveries
  • Bagged feed should be stored in suitable conditions, in a dry area and at a suitable temperature, e.g. do not store creep feed in a nursery or farrowing house as the warm temperatures will turn the feed rancid
  • Check feed for signs of mould and mites; if found discard the affected feed, identify the source eg clogged feed in the hopper or poor storage, and take remedial actions immediately.


  • Wastage from feed falling between the slats or being spilt onto the floor is expensive, consider placing feeders on boards to prevent feed falling through slats and thus reducing wastage
  • Quickly identify the cause of any spillage and rectify the problem eg the hopper design may be incorrect for the size of pig; overstocking may be causing uneven feeding; feeder flow rates may require adjustment; or the feed bins, hoppers or feed system may require repair.

Diet specification

  • Regularly review feed strategies with your nutritionist or feed supplier, ensuring that the diets, timing of diet changes and quantities of each diet actually being fed correctly match pig flow, age of pig and growth rates
  • Cheapest is not always the best; the value of performance must be taken into consideration along with the feed programme.

Feed intake

  • If possible devise a way to measure the feed intake of either a whole building or individual pens
  • Regularly checking feed intake will help to optimise diet formulations and also detect fluctuations, helping to identify likely causes of reductions or increases in intake
  • Where restrict feeding, routinely check that actual drop quantities are as expected
  • Check dry matter content for wet feed systems.

Feed orders

  • Review your storage capacity
  • When placing feed orders discuss optimal load sizes with your feed supplier
  • It is critical to avoid running out of feed at any stage as this will adversely affect pig health and consequent performance.


  • Maintaining water intake is critical since this drives feed intake and therefore affects growth rate and FCR
  • There must be sufficient functioning drinkers, at the correct height for the stage of pig, correctly positioned and with adequate flow rates
  • See Action for Productivity 16: Water supply for more information on this topic.

Maintain an active vermin control programme

Clean hoppers will encourage intake

Ensure that cleaning is effective

Vermin and birds

  • Contamination of feed by rats, mice and birds not only poses a health risk to the pigs, but can result in significant feed losses
  • 100 adult rats can eat up to four tonnes of feed per year
  • Maintain an active vermin control programme, bird proof buildings where possible, keep lids on hoppers and feed barrows and clean up any spillages promptly.


  • Monitor the daily min/max temperatures within buildings, as well as observing the pigs' behaviour
  • For recommended temperatures, see the Defra Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock - Pigs
  • High temperatures can reduce appetite and therefore growth rates, while cold temperatures cause pigs to use energy to maintain body temperature rather than for growth
  • Note that temperature requirements are affected by a number of variables, for example group size, floor type, bedding, health status etc.


  • Check that feeders are clean and that there is no caked feed
  • Any fouling must be cleaned out daily to reduce wastage and encourage intake
  • Follow an all-in all-out policy wherever possible, cleaning and disinfecting buildings and pens between batches
  • Review your cleaning policy with your vet, ensuring that the cleaning is effective, using appropriate disinfectants at the correct dilution rates
  • See Action for Productivity 10: Cleaning and Disinfection for more information.

Movement and mixing

  • Reducing the number of moves, minimising mixing, keeping variation to a minimum and enforcing actual all-in all-out policies, will all help to improve health, minimise stress and increase intake, growth rates and efficiency
  • Review your actual current pig flow with this in mind and the timing of all feed changes
  • Ensure that all relevant information, such as weaning date, is transferred with the pigs as they are moved through the system to enable days to sale to be monitored
  • Review all records regularly with your staff, vet and nutritionist, continually striving to improve performance.
January 2009
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