Examining pig feeding systems according to production stages


If a few years ago we were facing the options of pig feeding systems trying to provide arguments to promote the change, today the change is already in the field.

When you arrive at a farm and the owner tells you that the best thing she could have done was to implement an automated feeding system in farrowing crates to provide appropriate nutrition to the needs of each sow, you feel pride and immense happiness.

Farmers are highly interested in utilizing tools that prioritize the well-being and health of their animals, as they witness the benefits of increased production and reduced issues.

This article provides an overview of various feeding systems tailored to specific production phases, highlighting their advantages and limitations.


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Feeding strategies during the initial 28 days of gestation

Following the insemination of sows, a critical period ensues, during which embryonic implantation takes place.

Approximately on days 12-14 post-fertilization, blastocysts undergo morphological changes and develop two filaments that enable attachment to the endometrial wall.

This stage holds immense significance for the embryo’s survival, as it ensures the provision of essential nutrients for its development.

The success of embryo implantation is negatively affected by stress, as it directly hampers the receptivity of the endometrium.

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Factors like food competition and typical group hierarchy fights can pose risks during this phase. To address this, most producers house these sows in individual cages until the 28th day of gestation, ensuring proper nutrition and a calm environment for the mothers.

Feeding systems during this period are typically straightforward with minimal technological integration. However, it is essential not to neglect the needs of sows with lower body condition after giving birth.

This phase is crucial for recuperation and rest, and it is vital to provide them with suitable enrichment materials such as cotton ropes or straw. These materials contribute to their comfort and relaxation.

Feeding systems for group-housed pregnant sows

In this phase, our objective is to satisfy the sow’s maintenance requirements, avoiding excessive weight gain or loss.

It is important to remember that nutrition during this stage has a direct impact on the birth weight of piglets and milk production, particularly in the final third of gestation.

Incorporating systems that enable individual control of the feed quantity per sow will consistently provide a competitive edge.

Electronic feeding stations are regulated feeding systems controlled by an electronic machine connected to a computer system.

Sows enter the electronic feeder where they are individually identified through an electronic chip embedded in their ear tag, allowing them to receive their corresponding ration based on their weight and gestation status.


They enable personalized feeding control, offering convenience and simplicity.

They ensure that every sow consumes their feed.

This system is the only one that guarantees that each sow receives the appropriate ration based on her specific requirements.

They offer a vast amount of information and a wide range of possibilities.


Require significant investment.

It is important to consider where and how they are set up. Taking into account the installation location and design is crucial as corners, dead ends, or steps can pose a serious risk.

Given that the animals do not have constant access to food, fights among them can arise.

To get the best performance, it is advisable to have specialized personnel to handle them.


Self-catching devices and feeding systems

In this feeding system, the sow is placed inside a gestation crate that is equipped with a gate that automatically closes once she enters the stall.


It is suitable for groups of all sizes and effectively eliminates hierarchical competition.

It enables individual handling of the animal, if required, by blocking the door.


Initial investment is high.

From an animal welfare perspective, this system goes against the prevailing trend as we are already transitioning away from the use of cages.


Individual feeding system with box or semi-box

This feeding system is widely used due to its simplicity and effectiveness in adapting the previous gestation systems to meet current welfare regulations.



A cost-effective system, as it only requires labor for the installation of the renovation.

It involves minimal investment and enables a relatively personalized feeding control.


The competition for food intensifies because, even though each sow has space, the faster and dominant ones usually drive away the weaker ones once they finish eating their own ration.

Younger or lower-ranking sows do not have a space where they feel protected, and often they do not have access to food.

As a result, within the same group, we find animals with different body conditions. In such cases, it is crucial to organize groups based on parity and body condition.

Despite prior organization into homogeneous groups, this system often encounters unfit sows for which an alternative must be found (removing them from the group and placing them in the infirmary).

The competition for food leads to fights and an increase in lameness and certain diseases (such as leptospirosis).

Therefore, farms that initially opted for this quicker and more economical approach are now facing the need to reinvest in self-capture cages or even electronic stations, incurring additional costs.

Automatic feed hoppers

These feed hoppers are equipped with a presence detector that enables the delivery of feed in small amounts and at specific intervals.

Unlike electronic stations, they do not require a chip or computer, but they do not provide the option for individualized feeding either.

This system is not commonly used because it lacks the notable advantages of feeding stations while still inheriting the disadvantages of other systems, such as higher costs, increased competition, and potential body condition imbalances.

Feeding systems for lactating sows

The feeding system during lactation has a direct impact on its success. While it used to be the phase with the lowest investment priority due to its short duration, these 28 days will determine the productive and reproductive lifespan of our sows.

During the lactation phase, we are not only influencing the next reproductive cycle but also the current litter. The production of milk and colostrum is closely related to the quantity and quality of water and feed consumed. Additionally, this has implications for the weaning weight of the piglets.

Ensuring that the sow can consume as much food as she wants and is capable of is crucial. Therefore, now more than ever, the higher the level of personalized feeding for each sow, the better.

Feed dispensers

This is the most straightforward and widely used system to date, where feeding depends on the judgment and “willingness” of the assigned worker.


Most cost-effective system.


The sow’s feeding is not “ad libitum”, and at times her needs are not fulfilled.

Feed waste.

Automatic feeders

These are the most innovative and sophisticated systems, allowing for individualized and regulated feeding through a computer and individual electronic regulators.

These systems enable the automatic adjustment of feed quantities administered to each sow based on:

Body condition

Days of lactation

Number of piglets

Sows obtain their feed ration by activating an electronic agitator, which dispenses a small portion of feed.

This promotes higher intake and reduces feed losses because the sow needs to empty the feeder to activate the electronic activator. As a result, a new ration will not be dispensed if the previous one has not been consumed completely.


Precise and monitored consumption.

Labor reduction

Feed waste reduction.

All generated data is stored in the computer for future analysis.


Requires a high investment.

Requires a certain level of training for the operators.

Feeding ball

Feeding balls are slow-release dispensers that rely on sows hitting a ball to activate the feed release mechanism.

Various models are available, but they generally enable ad libitum feeding for sows, leading to improved feed consumption and productive outcomes.


Easy to use, both for the farm workers and the sows.

Reduce feed waste and labor.


Certain models may experience difficulties related to blockage and cleaning.

Proper installation, including appropriate height adjustment, is necessary.

Slow-release with electronic control

A slow-release system with an electronic controller for each farrowing pen enables the programming of multiple feedings per day with the desired quantity for each sow. However, these systems do not have automatic curve adjustment capabilities, so the controller needs to be manually adjusted.



During these phases, the focus will primarily be on productive efficiency, measured by parameters such as feed conversion ratio (FCR) and average daily gain (ADG).

The key during the transition phase is to achieve a rapid adaptation to the feed, which will lead to growth and good health. Therefore, the focus should be on the quality of the feed rather than the feeder itself.

In this context, it is important to keep in mind some fundamental principles, such as ensuring the availability of food and water (paying attention to the height of the drinker and the depth of the dish) and properly adjusting the feeders.

During this stage, linear feeders in dry hoppers are commonly used.

Providing ample space in the feeders is beneficial, as it reduces competition and promotes higher average daily gain (ADG).

Additionally, for pens housing smaller animals, it is common to use milk feeders that offer more appetizing and easily digestible feed, catering to their immature digestive systems.

Feeding systems in grow-out facilities

The main focus in this phase is on productive performance (feed conversion rate), as well as durability and practicality.

Therefore, you will find simple and cost-effective systems that are easy to clean and long-lasting.

Efficiency is prioritized, with feeders that are easily adjustable and minimize feed wastage.

Limiting factors include:

The number of feeders per pen, based on the number of animals housed in each pen.
The number and placement of water drinkers.



Dutch Hopper

These are commonly used in our country’s grow-out facilities and are known for having a water access point integrated into the hopper itself, allowing pigs to drink and eat simultaneously.


Simple dosage.

The hopper drinker offers an extra water access point, separate from the pen drinker, enhancing the well-being of the pigs.


The hopper nipple can become blocked by feed.

Piglets have a tendency to play with the feeder nipple, which can lead to it breaking.

Regularly checking and ensuring its proper functioning is necessary.

Mixed hopper

This type of feeder is becoming increasingly common in new and renovated farms.

In this case, the hopper also has a nipple, but it is separate from the feed.

Obstructions caused by feed are less frequent, although its proper functioning should still be checked regularly.

Some models include a float that ensures a constant water supply in the drinker tray.

Dry hopper

Most dry hoppers are made of concrete or stainless steel and do not have an integrated drinker. They are available in various sizes and models.

They are the most cost-effective option but also occupy more space, which reduces the number of available slots.

Automated feeding systems

While precision feeding technology is not yet widely used in the finishing phase, we can expect to see an increase in the adoption of systems that enable automatic sorting and separation of pigs based on their weight. This advancement allows for the customization of feed rations based on the individual performance and needs of each pig. It also streamlines the management and planning of pig groups, making it easier to send them to the slaughterhouse once they reach the desired weight. As this technology becomes more prevalent, it has the potential to enhance efficiency, optimize feed utilization, and improve overall productivity in the pig industry.

Source: This article was originally published as a content in Spanish in porcinews.com

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