Back to the Basics: Air, Water, Feed

12:51PM Aug 13, 2019
Young Pigs Eating (1)
( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

By Jon DeJong, Pipestone Nutrition

My wife and I recently watched my brother’s two children – one of whom isn’t quite talking. In the middle of an atypically long crying session, my wife and I were reminded of when our two oldest were newborns. We started scrolling through the mental rolodex of what could possibly be wrong: Was he hungry, tired, sleepy, didn’t like my ugly bearded face? Maybe all of the above? We were both quickly reminded that when our immediate and basic needs/instincts aren’t met, we aren’t very happy.

This is a concept I learned early on while walking pig barns with my dad and was more recently reminded by a grey-haired field person on our staff. He pushed me to remember the rule of three. Pigs have three basic needs: feed, water and air. They can survive without air for three minutes, without water for three days and without feed for three weeks. Those figures might not be exact science, but I think they tell a concise and compelling story. When you walk into a barn for the first or thousandth time you need to check three things, and in this order, air, water and feed.

The most essential ingredient to keeping pigs alive, a simple controller check before you walk into the barn can tell a lot. What is the temperature, is it over set point, are fans running, are curtains down, heaters running, inlets open? However, it’s one thing to see information on a controller, its another to walk into a room and verify. Go through the list of ventilation components and ensure all that should be on is on and all that should be off is off. The air you breathe in the first two steps into a barn will tell you as much as the next hour you spend there. Is the air moist, stale, cold, hot, and what is the level of ammonia? Answer those quick questions, and you’ll get a long way down the road to keeping the pig in the right environment. If it’s not comfortable for you, it’s probably not comfortable for the pig.

Second on the list, but just as important as air, is water. Without water, the pigs won’t eat, and without feed, the pig won’t grow. Again, a lot can be examined before you even enter the barn. Check the water line to see if water is running. If it’s recorded, double check the water usage from the past few days. Water usage is an easy first indicator of the health of the pigs and can be an early indicator of sick pigs. In addition, water availability has become more important as the industry has shifted toward a wet/dry feeder as opposed to dry or tube feeders. The wet/dry feeder allows for more pigs/feeder space; however, we haven’t always added additional water nipples for those pigs. We typically target 20 pigs per nipple; however, I see a lot of 100 head pens with a four-hole wet/dry feeder. This setup allows for 12.5 pigs per feeder hole, which is fine from a feed and feeder standpoint, but if no supplemental waterers are present you are left with 25 pigs per water nipple, which is cutting it close especially in the summer months in barns with big pigs.

Last on the list to check, but sometimes the hardest to get right, is feed. I had a mentor tell me once, “We formulate with a thimble, mix feed with a grain scoop and deliver it with a semi.” Not that any one of the steps is less or more important, but we all need to realize the scale at which feed is formulated, manufactured and delivered to the farm. A colleague of mine told me that in a perfect world the right feed is delivered to the right pig on the right day, but an acceptable reality is sometimes that all pigs simply have feed in front of them. So, as you check barns, that’s a good place to start. Do pigs have feed in front of them, in the feedline and in the feed bin? The process to get air and water to the farm are pretty simple, and there is only one form of each, but getting feed to the pig is much more complicated and spans across multiple entities from the person ordering the feed, to the truck driver, mill operator, procurement director, ingredient blender and ultimately the nutritionist. Though not simple, if there is transparency and trust across the units, getting the right feed to the right pig on the right day just might be doable.

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