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Use pig age to guide creep feeding

The length of time pigs are offered creep feed has little impact on how much they will eat or weight they will gain.

The duration of creep feed availability did not affect preweaning gain and weaning weights in recent Kansas State University research. However, litters with more prolonged access to creep feed seemed to have a higher proportion of “eaters” compared to litters with access to creep feed for shorter periods.

Previous studies have shown that eaters — pigs accustomed to consuming creep feed — have higher postweaning feed intakes and better growth performance. If creep-feeding behavior can be encouraged and more eaters can be created, postweaning performance can be improved.

KSU researchers concluded that starting pigs on creep feed when they are older might not have a detrimental effect on the amount of feed the pigs eat. Because older pigs seem to accept creep feed more readily than younger pigs, the older pigs may actually consume as much or more creep feed overall, compared to pigs started on creep feed at a younger age.

Research design

The study was set up to investigate how varying durations of creep feeding would impact the rate at which pigs consume creep feed and their preweaning performance.

Fifty-four sows were divided into two groups, according to parity and farrowing date. Crossfostering within 48 hours of farrowing helped standardize litter weights and litter sizes.

Groups were allotted to three experimental treatments based on how long the pigs would receive creep feed. Creep feeding began at 7, 14 or 18 days of age and continued until pigs were weaned at 20 days of age. This meant the experimental groups received creep feed for 13 days, six days or two days.

The creep diet was offered ad libitum using a rotary creep feeder with a hopper. All creep feed was offered in the form of 2-mm. pellets. A 1% chromium oxide dye was added to the diet so pigs eating the creep feed could be identified.

Sows were allowed free access to lactation feed throughout the study. Water was available to sows and litters at all times via nipple drinkers and bowls.

The duration of creep feeding had no effect on sows' total or daily feed intake during lactation.

Pigs were weighed individually at birth, 7, 14, 18 and 20 days of age. Creep feeders were weighed daily. Fecal swab samples were taken from all pigs at regular intervals. Piglets were categorized as “eaters” when fecal color was green, a result of the chromium oxide dye, at least once on any of the sampling days.

Duration of creep feeding

Researchers concluded there was no significant differences in individual or litter weaning weights, total gain and average daily gain among litters fed creep for different durations.

Table 1 illustrates the impact on litter performance, while Table 2 shows average performance for pigs.

The results suggest when creep feed was available for longer durations, weaning weights and weight gains of pigs and litters did not improve. The researchers speculate the relatively small creep feed intake during the first week of creep feeding may be insufficient to generate any differences in growth performance.

From Days 8-14, litters offered creep feed for 13 days had a total intake of 0.36 lb. (Figure 1). From Days 15-20, litters fed creep feed for six days had a higher total creep feed intake than litters fed creep feed for 13 days. Likewise, litters provided with creep feed for six and two days also tended to have higher total creep feed intake than litters fed for 13 days.

Overall, the total creep feed intake of litters fed for 13 and six days were greater than those litters provided creep feed for only two days. There were no differences in total creep feed intake between those fed for 13 and six days.

These results suggest that initiating creep feeding at a later age does not detrimentally affect creep feed intake; instead, older piglets readily accept creep feed and consume the same or more feed than pigs started on creep feed at an earlier age.

Thus, litter creep feed intake seems to be more related to the maturity of pigs rather than the period of introduction to creep feeding.

More time = more eaters

Longer duration of creep feeding did seem to result in a larger proportion of eaters (Figure 2).

Litters provided with creep feed for 13 days produced 10% more eaters than litters fed creep feed for either six or two days. There were no differences in the percentage of eaters between litters fed for six and two days.

The higher rate of eaters suggests that the longer availability of creep feed helps stimulate more pigs to consume creep feed and improves the average creep feed consumption of pigs categorized as eaters.

However, a 10% difference in eaters also indicates that the additional seven to 11 days of creep feeding generated only one more eater per litter, in litters of at least 10 pigs. Therefore, the benefit of longer durations of creep feeding should be weighed against the economic value of creating more eaters.

KSU researchers involved in the series of three research reports include: Rommel Sulabo; Mike Tokach; Eric Wiedmann; J.Y. Jacela; Jim Nelssen; Steve Dritz, DVM; Joel DeRouchey; and Robert Goodband, Kansas State University. Contact Sulabo at [email protected]. Reports 1 and 2 were published in the Jan. 15, 2008, and Feb. 15, 2008, editions of National Hog Farmer, respectively.

Table 1. Effects of Varying Creep Feeding Durations on Litter Performanceab
Item Creep feeding duration, days
13 6 2
No. of litters 18 18 16
No. of pigs 219 221 197
Avg. litter weight, lb.
Post-fostering 34.0 34.2 33.9
Day 7 60.4 60.8 60.6
Day 14 102.0 100.1 99.8
Day 18 129.0 127.1 125.7
At weaning 141.2 138.1 137.0
Avg. litter gain, lb.
Days 8-14 41.7 39.4 38.9
Days 15-18 27.0 27.0 25.9
Days 19-20 12.2 11.0 11.2
Days 15-20 39.2 38.0 37.2
Days 8-20 80.9 77.3 76.0
Litter avg. daily gain, lb.
Days 8-14 5.96 5.62 5.55
Days 15-18 6.75 6.76 6.45
Days 19-20 6.56 6.33 6.20
Days 15-20 6.14 5.51 5.65
Days 8-20 6.22 5.96 5.85
aTwo groups of sows (total = 52, PIC Line 1050) were blocked according to day of farrowing and parity and allotted to three treatments (13, 6, and 2 day creep feeding durations).
bCreep feed with 1.0% chromium oxide was offered ad libitum from Day 7, 14, and 18 to weaning (d 20).
Table 2. Effects of Varying Creep Feeding Durations on Pig Performanceab
Item Creep feeding duration, days
13 6 2
No. of litters 18 18 16
No. of pigs 219 221 197
Avg. pig weight, lb.
Post-fostering 3.05 3.04 3.04
Day 7 5.40 5.40 5.40
Day 14 9.13 8.89 8.94
Day 18 11.55 11.29 11.24
At weaning 12.66 12.26 12.26
Avg. pig gain, lb.
Days 8-14 3.73 3.49 3.54
Days 15-18 2.42 2.39 2.30
Days 19-20 1.11 0.97 1.02
Days 15-20 3.53 3.37 3.32
Days 8-20 7.26 6.86 6.86
Pig avg. daily gain, lb.
Days 8-14 0.53 0.50 0.51
Days 15-18 0.61 0.60 0.57
Days 19-20 0.56 0.49 0.51
Days 15-20 0.59 0.56 0.55
Days 8-20 0.56 0.53 0.523
aTwo groups of sows (total = 52, PIC Line 1050) were blocked according to day of farrowing and parity and allotted to three treatments (13, 6, and 2 day creep feeding durations).
bCreep feed with 1.0% chromium oxide was offered ad libitum from Day 7, 14, and 18 to weaning (day 20).

Pork Checkoff Offers Monthly Porcine Circovirus Updates

Timely answers to questions about porcine circovirus-associated disease (PCVAD) are available by simply clicking on the pork checkoff's new PCVAD Web page.

“We're working with Dick Hesse, DVM, Kansas State University's (KSU) director of diagnostic virology and an expert on PCVAD, to provide practical information you can use,” reports Angela DeMirjyn, manager of science communications for the National Pork Board.

The pork checkoff has contracted with Hesse and KSU to provide monthly updates on new developments with PCVAD. The February 2008 posting, along with previous updates, is available at; click on PCVAD Updates.

At the site, you can also download the brochures, “A Producer's Guide to Managing PCVAD” and “PCV-Associated Disease: Take Steps to Protect Your Herd.”

“This February article is especially important, because it provides the baseline knowledge that will help you better understand other information that will be posted about PCVAD,” notes DeMirjyn.

Also on the site is information about related swine disease complexes that may impact control of PCVAD.

“PCVAD has been a critical issue in the swine industry; since 2006, the pork checkoff, with additional investment from the USDA, has invested over $1.1 million in research that will help producers better manage this disease,” says DeMirjyn. “The online resources offer a valuable tool to protect the health of the U.S. swine herd.”

Fatigue Causes Majority

Canadian livestock consultant completes study of commercial livestock hauling mishaps.

Bad weather often gets the blame, but in actuality, driver fatigue is the main factor in livestock truck accidents, says a Canadian livestock consultant who has tabulated the results of 415 commercial hauling accidents in Canada and the United States.

“Most people assume bad weather is the main cause of rollover accidents involving livestock trucks. However, that common belief is not true. Data shows fatigue has been a major factor in a high percentage of truck accidents,” reports Jennifer Woods, a livestock consultant from Blackie, Alberta, Canada.

Woods collected data from 1994-2007 based on Alberta incident reports as well as information from insurance companies, police and fire departments, trucking companies, Internet searches and unpublished industry sources in both countries.

Results showed that:

  • Fifty-nine percent of the accidents occurred during the early morning hours from midnight to 9 a.m., resulting from drivers falling asleep at the wheel. This was most surprising to Woods, who thought that figure would be 90% or higher. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 28% of accidents occurred, followed by only 12% in the early evening hours.

  • Eighty percent of the accidents involved a single vehicle. Driver error accounted for about 85% of the problems, making driver training a key element. Other drivers at fault accounted for 10% of the accidents.

  • Reasons for Driver Fatigue

    In 83% of truck accidents, the vehicle rolled over, and in 84% of the accidents the trucks rolled to the right, both symptoms that driver fatigue played a role, she says.

  • Only 1% of the accident reports identified weather conditions as the probable cause of the accidents, with 2% blamed on mechanical problems.

  • Fifty-six percent of all accidents involved cattle trucks; 27% involved pigs and 11% involved poultry.

  • Of the 169 documented accidents involving cattle, 23% took place with trucks hauling slaughter weight cattle, while 70% involved feeders and calves.

  • Of the 103 documented accidents with swine, 80% involved trucks hauling market hogs, while 16% involved feeder or weaner pigs and 3% involved sows (Figure 1).

The greatest number of these accidents did not occur during the winter months. More accidents happened in October, followed by November, August, April and May. The least number of accidents occurred in July (Figure 2).

Figure 3 illustrates the number of truck accidents documented in each state.

Woods says the conclusion that driver fatigue is the leading cause of livestock-hauling accidents is based on the fact that the majority of the mishaps occurred between midnight and 9 a.m., and most were single-vehicle accidents.

Major contributors to driver fatigue are driving long hours and having to load livestock in the middle of the night in order to have animals arrive at the packing plant first thing in the morning, Woods explains in her report.

Plus, the high profile of a livestock trailer provides little margin for error. When the truck veers right onto the shoulder, it's very difficult to keep it from ending up in the ditch, she warns.

“Hundreds of thousands of animals are moving on our highways daily, and accidents are inevitable,” Woods asserts. “Unlike other freight carriers, though, these trailers are carrying live animals, making these accidents an increasing public concern. As well as a livestock welfare issue, there is a large cost associated with these accidents — the loss of the value of the animal, the cost of rescue and recovery, the loss of equipment and the increase in insurance cost.”

Woods tabulated average animal mortalities in 212 of the accident cases and found: fat cattle, 9 head; weaner calves, 23 head; feeder calves, 14 head; market hogs, 34 head; and feeder/weaner pigs, 327 head.

“Transportation is a vital link for the livestock industry, and it is the responsibility of the entire livestock industry to ensure that animals are being transported safely and humanely,” she says. “Transporters need to be provided the necessary tools to educate and train drivers on accident prevention. Fatigue management is a key.”

Woods has trained more than 2,000 people in North America regarding how to handle livestock involved in motor vehicle accidents. She notes the most prevalent problems she has observed are a lack of understanding and training needed by the people at the scene to deal with the situation.

For more information, contact Woods by telephone (403) 684-3008, e-mail [email protected] or go to her Web site,

By-Products Spur Interest in Enzymes

Skyrocketing feed costs has producers and nutritionists taking a closer look at enzymes to improve digestion and absorption of dietary components.

There has been a tremendous increase in interest and use of various types of dietary enzymes in swine diets to improve nutrient digestibility.

Enzymes are biologically active proteins that break specific chemical bonds to release nutrients for further digestion and absorption.

Proteases are enzymes that break down proteins. Lipases are enzymes that break down fats, and carbohydrases break down carbohydrates.

All of these enzymes can improve nutrient digestion and increase energy absorption. The most widely used enzyme in U.S. swine diets has been phytase, an enzyme that improves phosphorus digestibility in a wide variety of plant-based feed ingredients, such as corn and soybean meal.

The chemical characteristics of plant-based feed ingredients are very diverse (Table 1). The effectiveness of commercial enzymes and enzyme mixtures depends primarily on how well they are matched to the specific chemical characteristics of the ingredients used in swine diets.

For example, the amount of non-starch polysaccharides, which are complex carbohydrates that make up fiber in feeds, are relatively indigestible in pigs. Their range in digestibility is from 10% to 37%.

In pigs, fiber can be defined as a nutritional fraction in an ingredient that is resistant to digestion by the enzymes in their gastrointestinal tract. By this definition, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, pectins and β-glucans are the major components of fiber.

Cellulose is a complex carbohydrate made up of glucose linked by β-1,4 glycosidic bonds, which cannot be broken by the digestive enzymes in the small intestine of the pig.

Hemicellulose, found in high concentrations in the cell walls of plants, is associated with cellulose and pectin and consists of several non-starch, non-cellulosic polysaccharides including arabinoxylans, glucomannans and galactans.

Fiber has been considered an anti-nutritional factor for young pigs because it can decrease nutrient digestion, especially protein, amino acids and minerals. It can also increase the rate of stomach emptying, which further reduces nutrient absorption.

Biofuel By-Products Set the Challenge

The increased use of corn for fuel ethanol production and the increased use of fats and oils for biodiesel production are contributing to increased amounts of low-energy, high-fiber by-products for animal feeds. Pigs can only moderately utilize fiber for energy, unlike cattle, which can utilize fiber extremely well to meet their energy needs.

In order to improve the energy value of fiber in swine diets, effective commercial enzyme products need to match the carbohydrate composition of corn, soybean meal and distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS), as shown in Table 2.

Compared to corn and soybean meal, DDGS contains a significant amount of fiber, which may play a significant role in decreasing dry matter (DM) digestibility of the diet. The main components of fiber in the DDGS are cellulose and insoluble arabinoxylans, similar to fiber in corn. Substituting 25% DDGS for corn and soybean meal in a young pig diet will increase the dietary fiber from 14% to 19%.

What the Research Shows

The addition of dietary enzymes to swine diets in efforts to improve nutrient digestibility has been researched for decades.

However, the majority of commercial enzyme products have been targeted toward young pigs or poultry — both with limited hind-gut fermentation capacity — and have typically been added to diets containing barley, oats, peas, rye or wheat. Only a few studies have evaluated their use in corn-soybean meal diets.

The most common fiber-degrading enzymes that have been supplemented in pig and poultry diets are β-glucanase, xylanase and cellulase. In general, fiber-degrading enzymes may have several modes of action, including:

  1. Partial hydrolysis of soluble and insoluble fiber;

  2. Decrease in digesta viscosity to improve lower gut microbial fermentation and energy value;

  3. Rupturing of fiber-containing cell walls, thereby making the contents available for digestion; and

  4. Enzymes in Basic Diets

    Causing shifts in the population and activities of intestinal microflora.

Several studies have shown that when wheat and hull-less, barley-based diets are fed to young pigs (less than 55 lb. in body weight), responses to non-starch polysaccharide degrading enzymes are positive and relatively consistent, where digestibility of protein and energy and pig performance are all improved.

For growing-finishing pigs (more than 55 lb. in body weight), research results have shown a declining response to enzyme supplementation in wheat or barley-based diets as pigs get older. Data from several studies range from no response to dietary enzyme supplementation to clear, significant improvement in nutrient digestibility and/or growth performance.

However, a significant and positive effect on protein digestibility and numerical improvements in energy has been observed after dietary enzymes have been added in some trials, even when there was no growth performance response.

For corn-based diets, relatively few studies have been conducted to determine the effects of adding dietary enzymes on nutrient digestibility.

Results from one study showed no significant effect on protein and energy digestibility when adding β-glucanase to simple corn-soybean meal diets for weaned pigs.

Enzyme Potential Greatest In High-Fiber Diets

Similar results were seen in another study where adding multiple enzymes (cellulase, hemicellulase, xylanase, amylase, α-galactosidase) to diets for growing pigs (more than 95 lb. body weight).

When corn-soybean meal-based diets contained 20% wheat or wheat middlings/bran, however, significant benefits to xylanase supplementation on growth rate and/or feed conversion in growing/finishing pigs have been observed.

More recently, researchers at JBS United in Sheridan, IN, reported that adding an enzyme preparation to diets containing 30% DDGS increased growth performance in nursery pigs. Whether dietary enzyme additions will enhance growth performance in grow-finish diets containing increased levels of corn fiber is not known.

Research is underway to evaluate the effectiveness of various commercial enzyme products on improving the energy value of high-fiber, corn-based by-products for swine.

In general, the use of exogenous enzymes to degrade indigestible dietary fiber has yielded inconsistent results. Possible reasons for these inconsistent responses include:

  • Different grains and grain by-products have different dietary fiber (substrate for the enzyme) composition and content. For instance, wheat and rye are rich in arabinoxyloses, whereas barley is rich in β-glucan. Corn has much lower fiber content than barley and wheat and, as a result, the response to supplemental enzymes is small in simple corn-soybean meal diets.

    However, if corn-soybean meal diets are supplemented with high-fiber by-products that contain significant quantities of insoluble cell wall material, the potential for a response to an effective enzyme source (particularly xylanse) is increased considerably.

  • Potential responses to enzymes will be greater in younger pigs because daily energy and amino acid intake often limits the ability of the pig to achieve its lean gain potential.

In addition, poor nutrient utilization has been partially attributed to the immaturity of the digestive system, including the breakdown of fiber.

Overall, the potential response to enzyme supplementation is greatest when feeding poor-quality (high fiber) ingredients to young pigs.

Contributions to this article were made by Guowu Xu, Midwest Ag Enterprises, Marshall, MN; and Brian Kerr, USDA-ARS, Ames, IA.

The Key to Making Pen Gestation Work

With over 50 years of hog-raising experience under his belt, Dale Keesecker has seen and tried any number of new products and management practices.

In those five decades, the Washington, KS, producer has also tested numerous products and management philosophies under the cooperative guidance of the Kansas State University (KSU) swine Extension staff.

Keesecker began moving sows to confinement in the mid '90s, devoting one gestation barn to sows in stalls, another to gilts housed 10-12/pen. Roughly 75% of the sows were housed in stalls, with 25% of sows and gilts in pens.

In the mid-'90s, he also began transitioning to multi-site production. “We moved nurseries and finishers off site and converted those barns to pen gestation,” Keesecker explains. “That was about 13 years ago. It was not an animal welfare decision.”

Today, the split between sow stalls and group housing of sows and gilts is about 50:50.

Still, as concerns about gestation stalls mounted, this forward-thinking Kansan once again joined forces with the KSU staff to study group size and feeding options for gestating sows.

Keesecker had plenty of experience with hand-feeding sows in pens, but he wanted to learn more about automated drop feeding and whether the number of feedings per day mattered.

“We were starting to read about various gestation housing alternatives and feeding regimes, so we were interested in learning if there was a better way to manage the pens. We had done countless studies with the KSU researchers at Manhattan, so they knew we were open to new ideas,” Keesecker explains.

Feeding Frequency Trial

In the field trial, 208 sows and 288 gilts were fed either twice a day (7:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.) or six times a day (7:00, 7:30, 8:00 a.m. and 3:30, 4:00 and 4:30 p.m.). Sows received 5.5 lb. of feed daily, while gilts received 4.5 lb. Thirteen replicates of eight sows/pen and 12 replicates of 12 gilts/pen were included in the trial.

Weight, backfat, and standard measures of reproductive performance were recorded. In addition, various measures of animal well-being were collected, such as body lesions and vulva lesions scores (1 to 4), visual scores for structural integrity — front and rear legs and hooves.

The eight-month study did not yield remarkable differences in the two feeding regimes. Weight gain, backfat change and variation of body weights of the groups were similar. Reproductive performance was also similar.

Sows fed six times a day were noisier than those fed twice, but the latter groups had more body and vulva lesions. Sows fed twice a day also had slightly more feet, leg and hoof problems. (See p. 12 for complete details and results of the study.)

Pros and Cons

Although sows and gilts on the two feeding regimes performed similarly, Keesecker and his long-time breeding-gestation manager, Rick Richard, recounted some of the day-to-day advantages and disadvantages they saw with the drop-feeding systems.


  1. “More consistent feeding levels than hand-feeding. When feed is metered, you actually know what sows are getting. If a herdsman is feeding with a scoop, the amount of feed given per sow could vary, depending how full the scoop was and how big of a hurry he was in.

  2. “Better sow condition than hand-feeding, overall;

  3. “It's quieter; sows don't associate the feeding with the herdsman being in the barn. You don't have all of the noise and commotion and excitement going on that you did with hand-feeding.

  4. “It's much, much easier to adjust the feeding levels, because you just adjust the feed drop rather than trying to tell a person that we need to increase feed per sow by two or three tenths of a pound per day.

  5. “Sows were calmer and quieter the more drops we did. When the study was over, we went to the three in the morning, three in the afternoon feed drops. Sows are more consistently calm. Although the research might not bear this out, from visual observation, it looks like (there are) less problems with pecking order and boss sows when we drop feed more times per day.”


  1. “Compared to stalls, one thing you lose with the drop-feeding system is individual control. If you need to treat an animal or you want to read a tattoo, you can't just walk through and get it at a glance (in group housing). You'll have to figure out how to contain her.

  2. “We had a very small percentage of sows that would get aggressive, and we'd have to remove them and put them in stalls. That can mess you up, logistically.

  3. “A very small percentage of really timid sows just wouldn't adapt to floor feeding - even with six-times-a-day feeding. When they start to lose condition, you have to pull them.

  4. “One of the things that always bothers me about pens vs. stalls, is what could happen if someone were in a pen of sows and got knocked down, and knocked unconscious; they probably wouldn't come out of there alive,” Keesecker adds. “I know that's an extremely remote possibility. Pigs generally won't hurt you on purpose, but accidents do happen.”

Managing Pens

Keesecker and Richard feel they have learned a few things that could help other pork producers manage sows in pen gestation.

Newly weaned sows are moved to stalls in a wing of the breeding-gestation barn. Once found in heat, sows are inseminated twice. The gradual move to more pen gestation has left them so tight on individual stalls that they now must move recently bred sows out of the breeding area the next week.

“Pen gestation requires a different style of management, and there are more things that you need to do to make pens work right,” states the veteran manager who has been at Keesecker Farms for over 17 years.

One of the bigger challenges with sows in groups is “feeding to the averages,” says Keesecker.

“Basically, you have to pre-organize the sows,” says Richard. “Sort them by weight, backfat and condition and set the feed drops accordingly.”

Although their field trial found no real advantages to feeding six times a day vs. twice, Richard prefers the more frequent feeding. “Even with the twice-a-day feeding, sows still tend to associate the herdsman with feeding,” he explains. “The sows fed six times are just calmer.”

“If you get a really aggressive animal - one that just won't quit - you have to pull her out,” Keesecker says. “They're like the bully that just never quits.”

At the opposite extreme are the timid sows. “We still get individual sows that are timid and don't want to eat with the group. They, too, must be pulled and moved to an individual stall,” Richard adds.

“On a day-to-day basis, it is harder to check for sows that are recycling in pens. It takes more skill to find those sows,” he says. “It also makes preg-checking a little more difficult, but we don't seem to miss many.”

Building New — Pens or Stalls?

Keesecker doesn't hesitate when asked which sow housing option he likes best. “I prefer stalls,” he says plainly.

Richard admits if someone had asked that question before they conducted the trial, he'd have opted for stalls, too. “No way would I have wanted pens,” he says. “But I feel a little more comfortable now that we have some experience with the feed drops and floor feeding. I like the consistency of the automatic drop feeders. You don't have to worry whether someone is feeding the sows the same way every day.

“When we were hand-feeding, people tended to give each pen the same number of scoops without regard to the number of sows in the pen or the condition they were in. It's one of those jobs that people do without paying attention. If you have 40 pens to feed, and you have a barn full of squealing sows, one of your objectives is to get to the other end of the barn as quickly as you can.”

If he were making plans to build a new gestation barn today, Keesecker says, “I'd still have to look at stalls. We've got some projects that we're going to tackle in the near future and I'm really struggling with that. It costs less to go to pens and they're faster to build, but you lose control of the individual animals — their care and treatment. And there's more risk to the herdspeople.”

Richard agrees, but if you're sold on pens, he advises: “Think ahead about how you will manage it. I would go with smaller pens. Shoot for as much individual control as you can get.” And he prefers to house replacement gilts in pens because it's easier to check heat and gilts tend to grow better. “It helps their leg structure,” he says. “Remember, they're still developing; they're like a juvenile.”

Using Corn Distiller's Syrup in Swine Diets

Currently, dry milling ethanol plants produce primarily two co-products — wet corn distiller's grains (WCDG) and corn distiller's liquid solubles (CDLS) — frequently called “syrup.”

Typical production of these co-products is approximately 70% wet corn distiller's grains and 30% syrup.

When these two co-products are mixed together and dried, they produce the popular feed ingredient, corn distiller's dried grains with solubles (CDDGS).

Some ethanol plants have chosen to market some of the syrup separately as a feed ingredient to supplement ruminant or nonruminant diets.

Table 1 lists the typical dry matter analysis for WCDG and CDLS, or syrup. The highlighted values emphasize the amount of a specific ingredient in the WCDG and syrup. Basically, protein (amino acids) and fiber are much higher in the grains (WCDG), while fat and phosphorus are much higher in the solubles (syrup).

Can “Syrup” be Fed to Pigs?

Researchers at the University of Guelph conducted several successful feeding trials in which the syrup was incorporated in swine diets. No significant difference in growth performance was seen when compared to corn-based diets.

Similarly, pork producers with liquid- feeding systems are using the syrup in their feeding programs to significantly reduce feed costs.

Table 2 presents a grow-finish diet utilizing the syrup. Current ingredient prices were used (see Table 2 footnote).

The syrup analysis was converted to “air-dry” analysis for formulation, and the “as-is” liquid soluble price used was $16 and $32/ton.

Diet specifications were: lysine, 1% (digestible lysine, 0.83%); fat, 5.2%; total phosphorus, 0.53% (available phosphorus, 0.27%); and digestible threonine, 0.49%.

As the inclusion rate and the syrup cost increases, considerable savings can be realized if this ethanol by-product can be moved and fed in its liquid form. Basically, each 100 lb./ton (5%) of syrup replaces approximately 11 lb. of 46% soybean meal, 10 lb. of animal fat, 5 lb. of 21% monocalcium phosphate and 74 lb. of corn, with a few minor adjustments to other ingredients.

Cost of the syrup varies from “free” up to $30/ton at the plant. Naturally, shipping and handling costs must be considered, but as inorganic phosphorus prices continue to increase, syrup is a viable alternative feed ingredient if you have the feed facility to incorporate it into the diet.

Table 1. Typical Dry Matter Analysis of Wet Corn Distiller's Grains (WCDG) and Corn Distiller's Liquid Solubles (CDLS)
WCDG (%) CDLS (Syrup)(%)
Dry Matter 34.2 28.5
Protein 33.5 18.5
Lysine 1.04 0.68
Methionine 0.66 0.27
Threonine 1.27 0.71
Tryptophan 0.29 0.20
Fat 9.0 15.7
Fiber 9.5 2.5
Ash 3.1 8.4
Calcium 0.04 0.06
Phosphorus 0.54 1.28
Table 2. Grow-Finish Diet with Corn Distiller's Liquid Solubles (Syrup) Using Current Ingredient Prices*
Ingredient cost/ton
Diet “Air-Dry” Syrup (%) Syrup at $16/ton Syrup at $32/ton
1 0 $222.56 $222.56
2 $217.63 $218.88
3 5 $213.18 $215.68
4 102 $204.16 $209.16
5 22.41 $182.81 $194.02
*Corn, $4.76/bu.; 46% soybean meal, $320/ton; 21% monocalcium phosphate, $450/ton; animal fat, $0.25/lb.; lysine, $1.00/lb.
1Replaces all inorganic phosphorus and phytase
2Replaces all inorganic phosphorus

Small Steps To a Turnaround

The bigger you are — the harder high feed prices will hit your bottom line.

Case in point — Smithfield Foods' recent announcement to trim their one-million-sow breeding herd by 4-5% — net. Easy math tells us that's a 40,000 to 50,000-sow reduction. The move, says Smithfield, will cut their annual production by 800,000 to one million market hogs.

Smithfield CEO C. Larry Pope describes the economic threats facing the livestock industry as unprecedented and unsustainable.

On the 114 million-plus pigs projected for slaughter in the United States this year, the move will make a dent — albeit a little one. Let's just call it a ding.

Clearly, the company is projecting the additional culled sows would have cranked out about 20 pigs/sow/year (p/s/y). That seems a bit high.

Say you normally cull 20% of your sows; culling an additional 5% would pull the “next worst” sows — which probably are not producing 20 p/s/y.

Still, the concept has merit and the company did emphasize that this will be a “net” reduction of their sow herd.

Being a little more conservative, let's say the extra 5% of cull-sow candidates produce a paltry 15 p/s/y. That would still pull 600,000 to 750,000 pigs off the market. If an average carcass weighs 200 lb., that's 120 million to 150 million pounds of pork.

Food for Thought

In recent USDA quarterly Hogs & Pigs reports, we've had about 6.2 million breeding animals in inventory (6.157 million in the Dec. 1, 2007 report). If you subtract the boars and open gilts held for replacement from that total, we probably have roughly 5.5 million “working sows” in the U.S. inventory most of the time.

If we follow the Smithfield lead by culling an extra 5% from the national herd, and they average 15 p/s/y, we would have 307,850 fewer sows producing 4,617,750 fewer market hogs. At a 200-lb. carcass average, that's 924 million fewer pounds of pork on the market.

Taking that a step further — say we shave 5 lb. off each 200-lb. carcass. At a projected annual slaughter of 114 million head, that's equivalent to about 2.5 million hogs, according to North American Preview author/economist Steve Meyer.

Roughly speaking, then, the 5%, 5-lb. combo would draw down our annual production by approximately 7.1 million market hogs.

As weekly slaughter counts gradually slip under total packer capacity, now would be a good time to begin a slow, deliberate reduction of slaughter weights.

Canadian Sow Buyout

By now, you've likely heard about the Canadian government's “cull breeding swine program” to reduce their breeding herd inventory by 10%. The goal is to help pork producers who are reeling from the economic trifecta they've experienced — soaring feed costs, low hog prices and the high value of the Canadian dollar.

The buyout will pay $225 (CAN$) per sow or boar, provided producers empty at least one breeding-gestation barn and agree to not restock it for three years. As I write this, the Canadian Pork Council says approval of the plan is imminent.

The plan is expected to reduce Canadian breeding animal numbers by roughly 150,000 head. Most will be sows, so I'll use that nice round number to project the potential impact on North American pork production.

Because the buyout requires breeding-gestation barns be emptied completely, it's fair to assume that those sows — across the boards — are probably better than the additional 5% of cull sows proposed by Smithfield. For easy calculation, let's use 20 p/s/y.

Yanking 150,000 sows from the Canadian breeding herd would theoretically trim market hog numbers by about three million. Some of those pigs would have been raised, finished and slaughtered in Canada, of course, so let's just estimate that 30-40% of them would have been sent south for finishing. If we add another 1.2 million slaughter hogs to the 7.1-million reduction noted above, we've now pulled 8.3 million market hogs off the annual slaughter total.

Economist Meyer says a 7-8% reduction in total slaughter should increase hog prices by about 25-30% — roughly what it will take to put U.S. pork producers back in the black, using current feed costs, etc.

A Slow Process

Granted, this dual approach will take time — I'd guess 18 months to two years, realistically. But isn't it a better approach than waiting for attrition to take production out of the system?

Prospects for lower feed costs in the near future look unlikely. We all know adjustments have to be made. As we wait, some proactive actions from the production side certainly could help.

So, if you've been looking for light at the end of the tunnel, there's a flicker of one — if you're willing to take a few small steps to find it.

Mycotoxin It's All in the Feed

Mycotoxins are fungi capable of producing mold on virtually all small grains, including corn.

The term mycotoxin means “poison from a fungi.” Only about 60 of the 200,000 known species of molds have been shown to harm humans or livestock. These fungi grow on virtually all of the small grains, including wheat, oats, barley and, of course, corn, the main source of pig feed.

These molds can proliferate in the ear of corn prior to harvest when there is drought or during prolonged periods of cool, wet weather. After harvest, corn that is improperly stored or dried can also produce molds. These “hot spots” in storage facilities may contain high concentrations of mycotoxins, which contaminate grain destined for feed production.

Symptoms of mycotoxicosis are extremely variable, and can range from reproductive failure in the sow to poor performance in the finisher. The typical mycotoxins include aflatoxin, vomitoxin, zearalenone and ochratoxin.

Case Study No. 1

A 1,200-sow, farrow-to-finish operation produced its own gilts on a separate site. Mature gilts were transported to the sow farm for breeding. Even though the gilts were old enough and big enough, breeding success was extremely poor. Nearly one-third of the gilts failed to breed or conceive.

Infection was suspected. Records were closely examined to verify age. Breeding procedures were reviewed to verify appropriate boar exposure and heat detection techniques. Artificial insemination protocol was checked. Blood tests were done on several females that hadn't cycled.

Sampling suggested no evidence of disease infection. A walk-through of the gilt developer farm revealed three rooms of healthy, active gilts.

However, the caretaker mentioned that gilts in the two older rooms had experienced a number of rectal prolapses. Closer inspection revealed a number that appeared to be in estrus and also had some pronounced mammary development. These signs pointed to exposure to estrogenic compounds produced by molds.

The bulk bins were examined and the two supplying feed for the older two rooms had large, moldy chunks attached to the sides. Rivets had rusted through and rainwater was allowing feed to get wet and mold to grow. High levels of zearalenone were detected.

The producer emptied the bins, repaired them and added mold inhibitor to feed delivered. Within three months, gilts going to the sow farm were achieving over 90% fertility success.

Case Study No. 2

A 600-sow, farrow-to-feeder pig farm experienced poor performance. The herd was positive for PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome). Sow reproductive performance was fair, but feed intake in farrowing was below expectations, and smaller weaned pig performance was subpar in the nursery.

The farm had changed feed suppliers during the past 12 months. Extensive diagnostics of blood from sows and tissues from suckling pigs and poor nursery pigs failed to reveal an infectious agent. Because of poor feed intake in farrowing, samples were collected from the bulk bins delivering feed. Several samples contained over 200 ppb aflatoxin. The feed supplier was notified about the findings.

It was determined that incoming corn wasn't properly tested, nor were the fines being screened out. The main corn bin leading to the milling equipment hadn't been totally emptied or cleaned in several years. The bin was emptied and a large amount of fines was discovered in the bottom of the bin. That material tested over 1,000 ppb of aflatoxin.

The mill agreed to improve the protocol for receiving grain and screening it for aflatoxin. Feed was delivered to the farm after all the bins were cleaned. All phases of production showed improvement within a month of getting “clean” feed.

Steps to Reduce Mycotoxins

While bacteria and viruses can cause clinical disease in pigs, feed-related issues can mimic or exacerbate many conditions. These steps should reduce the effects or risks of mycotoxins from feed:

  1. Review grain receiving/handling process for feed suppliers.

  2. Keep samples of each delivery.

  3. Check all bins and delivery tubes for contaminated feed.

  4. Report clinical signs to your health advisor, including chronic loss of appetite, newborn gilt pigs with swollen vulvas or poor reproductive performance.

  5. Test feed/grain for mycotoxins when conditions warrant.

  6. Add mold inhibitors to diets of sows and nursery pigs. Aluminosilicate and bentonite products are helpful in binding aflatoxins to prevent absorption.

Use your veterinary advisor to assist in evaluation of your herds' health and production parameters. Now that feed is much more costly, make sure it is good.

Smile! You're on Video Camera

Video monitoring supports employee training and troubleshooting efforts in sow farms.

Bill Beckman suffers from a common plight facing production supervisors and managers throughout the swine industry — the inability to be in more than one place at a time.

As director of sow operations at Professional Swine Management (PSM), Beckman oversees 21 sow farms with nearly 65 managers and 400 employees.

PSM, a division of Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service (CVS), Ltd, uses precise standard operating procedures (SOPs) covering everything from how supplies are disinfected, to the time of day heat checks occur, or how technicians assist sows during farrowing.

Recently, Beckman started relying on video cameras to help monitor whether employees are following the SOPs consistently. “We make sure people are doing their jobs correctly so we won't be blindsided with a compromise in production or herd health later on,” says Beckman of the use of video cameras to evaluate employees' on-the-job performance.

The digital video cameras are set up at various PSM farms in production unit rooms, “dirty” entrance areas, break rooms, pig load-out hallways, truck delivery areas and parking lots. In addition to monitoring performance, video cameras are used to train employees, monitor animal behavior, provide backup monitoring of ventilation systems and bolster security against intruders.

PSM employees are aware of the cameras and understand the company reserves the right to monitor occurrences at all farms. None have objected to the use of the video monitoring system, according to Beckman.

Video surveillance at worksites is becoming increasingly popular. A 2005 study by the American Management Association indicated that 51% of employers surveyed use some type of video surveillance to counter theft, violence or sabotage, compared to only 33% in 2001. About 10% currently use video equipment to monitor employee performance.

Getting the Job Done Right

Although Beckman says many employees perform tasks correctly when tested by a manager, he believes behavior naturally can slip if no one is watching. The cameras are a good adjunct to hands-on evaluation because they detect differences between SOPs and what is actually occurring in the barn.

For example, a video camera is set up at one PSM farm to track employee activity in an isolation nursery where replacement gil ts are raised. “We use the camera to monitor that the staff is correctly walking pens, feeding and treating pigs for illness,” says Beckman. “In that case, we haven't seen any problems.”

Beckman says the cameras are especially helpful in monitoring mundane, yet important duties such as following proper biosecurity measures. “We can look at video recordings for specific times of day and see that people are disinfecting their lunch boxes or taking out the trash and bringing in supplies appropriately. It gives me a sense of security that certain things are being done right,” he says.

PSM sow farm manager Steve Wittig agrees the cameras help keep everyone on their toes. “I think it is good; it makes us accountable in doing things the way we are supposed to, following good workmanship around the animals,” he says.

Training Tool

PSM relies heavily on video for training purposes. “We have numerous videos that employees can watch as part of their training lessons to become certified in various positions,” says Beckman. Each PSM farm has a personal computer dedicated to employee training, giving them access to training CDs and videos and the quizzes used for certification.

Recordings are also used to demonstrate new procedures. “For example, we can show the correct way to feed sows with the INTAK (lactation) feeders,” says Beckman. Employees view the videos during breaks or downtime at the end of a shift.

Joe Connor, DVM, senior partner at CVS, says video monitoring is not only effective in pointing out how well employees are following procedures, but it may also shed light on any flaws in the operation's training program. “It can be used to gain an understanding of what is going on and any deficiencies in training,” he says.

“Video training can create accountability, troubleshoot areas of focus, and allow management to intervene before it snowballs out of control,” he adds.

Other Applications

PSM has used video cameras in farrowing rooms to monitor sow eating behavior with automatic feeders. “We can see how many times the sow gets up and eats and drinks,” Beckman says. “If we notice a specific time frame when sows eat more, we can alter the feeding time to accommodate what the sows are telling us.”

The cameras also help keep PSM farms more secure — inside and out. Wittig says installing a camera in his farm's break room has prevented “sticky fingers” that occasionally led to missing lunches and other petty thefts before the cameras were installed.

Cameras are set up outside facilities to monitor incoming traffic and prevent intruders. These cameras are mounted inside video camera enclosures with fans and heaters to prevent weather-related malfunctions.

There have been some other, unexpected benefits, too. Beckman recalls a time when the ventilation controllers weren't working properly in a barn, and the video recordings helped provide an accurate history of when the fans were switching on and off. The videos helped correct the problem, he says.

What's Required

PSM uses 4XEM brand Internet Protocol (IP)/Network cameras that retail for about $275 each, explains Bill Waller, an information technology (IT) specialist at CVS. Cameras were purchased through CDW, an Internet IT supplier.

Cameras come with PC software required to access, control and record from up to 16 remote cameras.

PSM uses network cable to wire cameras to the training PC in the main office. Cameras are mounted to the ceilings or walls.

Wireless cameras are also available, but Waller says they are more expensive, and he's reluctant to use wireless in a swine facility where metal ceilings and walls could interrupt signals.

If electrical outlets are not located near the desired mounting locations, Waller says Power over Ethernet (POE) adapter kits can be used to draw power from the central PC. The kits cost about $70.

To handle the huge files, Waller dedicates two 500-gigabyte external hard drives for each farm's training PC. “That makes it easier if it has to be transferred offsite,” says Waller, explaining that hard drives can be switched back and forth. When Beckman or other managers or consultants want to view a specific time of day or task, the recording software allows Waller to provide an exact segment.

“The cameras record pretty much in real time and you can set a certain date and time frame for viewing,” says Waller. “You can also make a mini file and burn it to a CD to keep a record.”

Beckman plans to use cameras in more locations within the PSM system to help identify procedural problems early. “Even if I can't get to a farm because of downtime or other reasons, I can still see what's going on there,” he says.

Porcine Circovirus Grows More Deadly

Over time, the common virus has become noticeably more pathogenic.

Circovirus, a virus that exists worldwide, has turned more dangerous as it has mutated and then combined with other pathogens, according to Purdue University researchers.

At this point, the big question is why a virus that has been known to infect swine for almost 40 years in North America suddenly started causing disease in young pigs and began mutating into more deadly forms.

Based on research at the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory on the Purdue campus, the most recent mutation of the group of viruses known as porcine circoviruses can cause widespread acute illness. Other pathogens can combine with the virus to increase the fatality rate significantly.

“Our goal is to help the hog industry by understanding porcine circoviruses better,” says Roman Pogranichniy, a virologist at the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine.

To learn how the mutated form of porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) turned deadly, Purdue scientists studied pigs exposed to a combination of PCV2 and bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus on the farm.

“We think that the new co-factors, including BVD virus-like pathogens and other swine viruses, work together with porcine circovirus to attack the animals' systems and become more virulent,” says Pogranichniy.

Studying virus-caused lesions and blood of PCV2-infected pigs helps researchers gain some understanding how the virus infects cells and causes diseases to become more deadly.

“Results of the study also indicated that the amount of the PCV2 virus found in the animals had a direct relationship to how sick the animals became,” he says. “There was a high correlation between the amount of PCV2 viral DNA in the lesions and the severity of the disease.”

In the last 10 years, porcine circoviruses have spread to nearly every corner of the globe where hogs are raised, but mortality rates are usually low.

But on farms where pigs are infected with other viruses besides porcine circovirus, the mortality rate has risen to 35% to 50%.

Scientists first identified one type of porcine circovirus in Europe in 1974. Further study indicated it had been present in pigs since 1969, but apparently didn't cause disease.

In 1991, a disease appeared in 6- to 11-week-old nursery age pigs in Europe in which pigs lost weight, developed lesions on their organs and often experienced respiratory problems, diarrhea and jaundice. This condition was called postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome.

PCV2, which was first identified in 1996, caused lesions in the lymph tissue, kidney, liver and lungs. A more deadly form of the disease is now also found in older pigs.

PCV2 also produces other swine health problems, including abortions, pneumonia and systemic infection.

The newest mutation of the virus also causes enlargement of the spleen and fluid in the body cavity, lungs, abdomen and intestines.

Pogranichniy says further work is needed to learn more about the latest porcine circovirus mutation that includes lesions produced in the blood vessels.

Also, a more exact finding needs to be made of the role the BVD virus-like pathogen plays in the development of circovirus diseases.

The Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Agriculture and the National Pork Board have provided research funding.