The feeding behaviour of sows is an important variable to be measured in pig farms. For lactating sows, which are individually housed, electronic power supply systems are available. These systems allow the producer to decide and adjust the amount of feed supplied to each sow.
New options allowing the sow to choose how much and when to eat have recently arrived at the market (Gestal Solo, JYGA Technologies), thus enabling the farmer to know the lactation intake pattern.
The data collected are very relevant since deviation from the ideal feed intake pattern can impair the productive performance of sows. Koketsu et al (1996b) categorized the lactation feed records of more than 25,000 lactating sows on 30 commercial farms in six patterns:
1) rapid increase in feed intake; 2) major and 3) minor drop; 4) low feed intake throughout lactation; 5) low intake during the first week then an increase in feed intake for the remainder of lactation; and 6) gradual increase.
In this study, multiple regression analyses revealed that average daily feed intake of sows during lactation had linear or nonlinear associations with the key performance indicators of swine production.
Sows having either a lower feed intake throughout complete lactation or having a major drop during the first week, had longer weaning-to-first service interval and weaning-to-conception and had lighter litter weight at weaning than those with rapid increase, minor drop and gradual increase in feed intake.
Until now these results were very difficult or almost impossible to track in commercial farms. These feed intake patterns described by Koketsu have recently been confirmed by Piñeiro et al. thanks to the use of an electronic sow feeder system (Gestal Solo, JYGA Technologies).
The following figure shows the graphs of three patterns of feed intake recently obtained from commercial farms previously described by Koketsu: the “normal pattern” (rapid increase of feed intake during lactation) and the two patterns which deviate most from the ideal intake pattern and which can impair the productive performance of sows (major drop and low feed intake throughout lactation).
As a conclusion, we can highlight that the principal advantage of electronic sow feeder systems is the possibility of massive data collection, detecting deviations from standards, early alerts on disease or in combination with other data (i.e., health) to generate useful insights with minimum effort.