The feeding system used for sows has a significant effect on the availability of sows’ key resource: food. Feeding systems are categorized as either competitive or non-competitive, depending on how feed is presented. These systems differ in initial cost, floor space requirements, group size and management requirements, thus it is important to select a system that works for your barn, herd size and management style. Planning is important, and in general you get what you pay for. Cutting costs during the renovation phase can result in a system that requires more labor and/or feed to operate in the long run.
In competitive feeding systems, feed is provided in a common area, typically on a solid floor area or in short stalls, with all sows having access to feed at once. In competitive feeding, sows can gain access to more feed through aggression, or winning a fight. These systems are managed with smaller groups (from 5 to 30 sows per group) and require more hands-on management, including careful selection of uniform groups, and daily checks on sows during feeding to monitor health and body condition. Another drawback is that more feed is used in these systems to ensure that subordinate sows can access sufficient feed. One positive attribute is that they are typically less expensive to install than non-competitive systems, often using existing feed lines.
Examples of competitive systems include shoulder stalls, open feeding stalls or floor feeding.
Please see the competitive feeding factsheet for additional information.
In non-competitive feeding systems, sows are isolated and fed individually, so opportunities to gain more feed through aggression are limited. Electronic Sow Feeding (ESF) systems and free-access stalls are the most common non-competitive systems, with free access ESF systems being another recently developed option. The main advantage of non-competitive systems is the fact that they significantly reduce feeding aggression and allow greater control over individual feed intake. However, although ESFs do allow individual feeding, there can still be competition for access to the feeder. Controlling competition by not overstocking feeders and by designing pens and feeders to reduce multiple feeder entries by sows is important for the success of these systems.
Training of new sows and gilts is another important aspect of ESF systems. Animals may be reluctant to enter the feeder initially, as they may feel threatened in enclosed or dark spaces. Training pens using a standard ESF feeder, or gates to simulate the feeder entrance, can be used to familiarize new animals to the system. See Training gilts and sows for more information.