Articles

By Curtiss Littlejohn
Sow Products Manager
Canarm AgSystems  

Have you ever watched Grandma bake an apple pie?
 
Calibration and maintenance of your ESF.
 

If you asked your barn managers or staff who Peter Drucker is, how many would be able to identify him as the father of modern business management? Possibly, you might know him from one of his most quoted statements, “If you cannot measure it you cannot improve it…”.

Well, judging by this statement, I can tell you that this man never watched my grandma bake an apple pie. It was art the way she assembled a pantry full of ingredients into a couple of glass bowls and transformed them into a perfect, golden apple pie without using a single measuring device and an oil-fired oven with no thermostatic heat regulation. However, no two pies were ever exactly the same, lending to the mystique of Grandma’s unparalleled cooking skills.

Unfortunately, those same types of historical actions that go into baking an apple pie do not translate well to a modern hog barn. 2500 sows in a modern gestation barn mean about 1800 sows at some day of gestation. With volumetric feeders, any change in the density or nutritional composition of your feed can require many hours of manual work to adjust. However, with the aid of a SowChoice ESF, change can be reflected with your smart phone or computer.

There are typically 4 things that can impact a sow getting her proper nutrition on any given day of gestation: Daily Feed Curve, Body Condition Score (BCS), Nutrient Composition and Volumetric Mass Density (VMD). We work hard with producers and their support teams of veterinarians and nutritionists to ensure that all barns operating with SowChoice ESF’s build and maintain proper feed curves, and do weekly BCS checks / adjustments on their sows. There are typically 4 things that can impact a sow getting her proper nutrition on any given day of gestation: Daily Feed Curve, Body Condition Score (BCS), Nutrient Composition and Volumetric Mass Density (VMD). We work hard with producers and their support teams of veterinarians and nutritionists to ensure that all barns operating with SowChoice ESF’s build and maintain proper feed curves, and do weekly BCS checks / adjustments on their sows.

Therefore this leaves nutrient composition and VMD. Typically the procedure starts with some issue, either statistical change in performance, a physical change (visual) in the BCS, or nutritional opportunity (Least Cost Formulation) causing a change in the feed delivered to the farm. 4 weeks into the “new” feed, it’s noticed that the gestation sows are not at the right BCS or even losing ground. Naturally, the first finger pointed is at the feed salesman, who always bears the brunt of the bad news, which is passed on to the guy who supports the feeding system; me, for instance. The first question I will then ask is “When was the last time you changed feed or calibrated the SowChoice ESF?” Often the answer is “I don’t know,” or “the feed company looks after that,” with another possible response being “not recently.” Therefore this leaves nutrient composition and VMD. Typically the procedure starts with some issue, either statistical change in performance, a physical change (visual) in the BCS, or nutritional opportunity (Least Cost Formulation) causing a change in the feed delivered to the farm. 4 weeks into the “new” feed, it’s noticed that the gestation sows are not at the right BCS or even losing ground. Naturally, the first finger pointed is at the feed salesman, who always bears the brunt of the bad news, which is passed on to the guy who supports the feeding system; me, for instance. The first question I will then ask is “When was the last time you changed feed or calibrated the SowChoice ESF?” Often the answer is “I don’t know,” or “the feed company looks after that,” with another possible response being “not recently.”

Constant attention to detail when feeding sows is critical. Easy-to-use internal logic makes Calibration for a SowChoice Electronic Sow Feeder a quick, painless management tool, ensuring proper nutrition and keeping costs as low as possible while maximizing sow productivity. It is truly one of the quickest and simplest tasks to accomplish. Constant attention to detail when feeding sows is critical. Easy-to-use internal logic makes Calibration for a SowChoice Electronic Sow Feeder a quick, painless management tool, ensuring proper nutrition and keeping costs as low as possible while maximizing sow productivity. It is truly one of the quickest and simplest tasks to accomplish.

Plus, a tonne of feed is a tonne of feed, correct?  
   
The trouble arises when the VMD increase or decreases, as all sows are fed a volume of feed that corresponds to the anticipated weight and nutritional profile per kg of feed. Feed mills blend feed based on weight. Therefore, if the VMD changes, the kilograms of feed delivered by the scoop experience a volume drop or the SowChoice Electronic Feeder changes. The difference between rations can vary by up to 8% depending on the ingredients and texture or form the feed is manufactured in. I conducted a survey with a number of our customers, and the results for equal volumes of feed, different texture and the differences in weight are as follows:

   

Granted, these are small samples completed on a kitchen scale, but it clearly illustrates the point. For purposes of this discussion, we are safe to use an estimated 5% variation in weight for equal volumes of feed, depending on how it is presented to the sows. And we haven’t even calibrated the feeder yet!Granted, these are small samples completed on a kitchen scale, but it clearly illustrates the point. For purposes of this discussion, we are safe to use an estimated 5% variation in weight for equal volumes of feed, depending on how it is presented to the sows. And we haven’t even calibrated the feeder yet!

On 1800 sows, each getting 2.3 KG of feed per day (est. ~6700 Kcal) overfeeding by 5% or 115g, (the equivalent of 2 ½ standard Hershey bars) will increase feed costs by approximately $20,000 at todays feed prices. Underfeeding by 5% will reduce the kcal available to the sow by approximately 335 kcal per day or approximately 38,190 over the standard. With a 114 day gestation, that’s approaching the equivalent of a week without feed, setting the sow up to be under conditioned heading into the farrowing house. Additionally, depending on the feed strategy in late gestation, this could deprive the developing piglets of the Lysine required for excellent growth and high birth weights. What value you assign to a piglet with lower than normal survival options only compounds this potential loss exponentially. 

Typically I recommend taking a calibration sample from a feeder at least once a quarter, and once a month is even better. SowChoice ESF’s are set up with internal feed calibration logic. Put the station in Manual mode, press the feed calibration icon, and a sample feed portion is dispensed. Weigh the sample, enter the sample weight, and internal logic makes all the correct adjustments.  

Or you can go adjust 1800 individual drops, one more time. Or you can go adjust 1800 individual drops, one more time.

Designed with producer input, SowChoice ESF are built to make exceptional barn management even easier, increasing your financial performance in addition to animal welfare, and reducing labour and feeding costs.