Feeder Management in the Grower-Finisher Barn

Timely feeder management and maintenance of feeding systems can reduce feed costs – the largest expense of a grower-finisher operation. On most farms, feed cost can range from 65%–75% of the total cost to produce a grower-finisher pig to market weight. It only makes sense to continually look for ways to optimize the use and performance of your most expensive input.

Estimates suggest that 2%–20% of feed on swine farms is wasted.1 Feed waste can be caused by many factors, starting at the bin through to the feeder. Trials show a range of 2%–5.8% of feed2 is wasted at the feeder3 – an average of approximately 3.4%. The design, size and adjustment of feeders all help control waste.

Table 1 gives examples of the feed cost per pig as percentage of feed waste increases.

Table 1. The Cost of Feed Waste
Percentage of Feed Waste Feed for 93-kg Gain Cost/Pig Feed


Feed Waste









































Gain from 27 kg to 120 kg
Average feed cost of $0.3162/kg

Source: OMAFRA Swine Budget January – June 2011

Feeder Space

The first step in improving feeder management is to determine how many pigs the feeder can handle efficiently. This will depend on the feeder design, type of feed used and location of the water. Raising pigs to heavier weights may require reducing the number of pigs for each feeder or pen. Studies have shown that a reduction in feed efficiency may be caused by pen overcrowding rather than reduced access to feeders. Larger pigs (120+ kg) will require more shoulder space at the feeder (Figure 1), which may result in a four-hole feeder only accommodating three heavier pigs. The capacity of a feeder will depend on its design and whether feed is a mash or a pellet. Refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations for information on feeder capacity and set-up.

Feed Waste

Feed costs are the largest part of a farm’s expenses, so reducing feed waste pays off. Check your feed system from bin through to feeder thoroughly. Look for signs of spillage, leaks and loose connections, and make repairs as needed. Spilt feed may attract rodents or birds, which can cause health problems and spoil feed.

Feeder with two hogs eating.

Figure 1. Larger pigs require more shoulder space.

Hog feeder needing repair.

Figure 2. Broken feeders contribute to feed waste.

Pig standing at a hog feeder with feed on the pen floor.

Figure 3. Slatted floors may conceal spilled feed.

Hog feeder showing feeder pan coverage.

Figure 4. Adjusting feeder pan coverage to the size of the pigs can control feed waste.

Look for feeders in need of repair or replacement (Figure 2). On slatted floors, check the pits below the front of feeders for signs of spillage, then fix or adjust feeders accordingly (Figure 3).

Checking feeders daily limits the amount of stale, spoiled or mouldy feed that accumulates. Monitor feed waste in pens where market hogs are being shipped; as pig numbers decline, adjust feeders to reduce feed waste. For ways to reduce feed waste, see Dry Feeders and Wet/Dry Feeders.

Adjust feeders as pigs grow, to accommodate their changing size and ration needs (Figure 4).

Dry Feeders

Check dry feeders regularly for blockage, spoiled/wet feed or bridging. Feed should flow evenly into all feeder compartments.

In a dry feeder, the gap between the agitation plate and the trough floor will determine the amount of feed that can flow into the feeder. A feeder gap that is too narrow can restrict the amount the pig may eat and in some cases cause the feeder to plug. One plugged feeder space in a four-hole feeder can easily be overlooked. But when the whole feeder becomes plugged, the end result can mean more days to market for the pig and increased costs to the producer. On the other hand, having the feeder gap too large will prevent plugging but results in feed waste and increased feed cost.

Check the bottom pan of feeders to make sure they are adjusted properly. No one adjustment fits all. Kansas State University swine research suggests that 40%–50% of the feeder pan floor be covered for grower-finisher pigs. Adjust feeders to allow feed to cover slightly more than half of the feed pan without it accumulating in the corners.4

Further research has shown that for finisher pigs at 41 kg, a feeder gap setting of at least 1.9 cm results in approximately 58% pan coverage, maximizing gain without affecting feed efficiency. However, after pigs reach 68 kg, a 1.27-cm gap width results in approximately 28% pan coverage, minimizing feed waste and optimizing both average daily gain (ADG) and feed-to-gain ratio (F:G). Optimum feeder gap settings differ with each growth phase.5

Keep dry feeders in good working order by making these steps a routine.6

  • Close feeder completely after cleaning and before putting any feed in the feeder.
  • Open feeder just enough to start small feed flow.
  • Shake feeder to increase the amount of pellets or meal in the pan (to cover half of pan).
  • Clean corners daily instead of increasing feeder adjustment to increase feed flow.
  • Prevent moisture damage and spoilage in feed systems and storage through proper maintenance.
  • Eliminate all rodents, birds and other pests.

Wet/Dry Feeders

Studies have shown that feeders having within-feeder water access can service more pigs than dry feeders of the same feeder space. Mash diets, using a wet/dry feeder, will increase feed intake by 5% compared to dry feeders.7 With a wet/dry feeder, pigs eat and drink at the same location, allowing them to eat more. Make sure to check that feeders are adjusted for the size of pig and type of feed. There is limited information on optimal settings for wet/dry feeders. Trials suggest a 3.2-cm opening from placement to 90 kg and a 1.9-cm opening after 90 kg8.

Water Access

Do not restrict access to water or take water for granted. Properly working water nipples/bowls are a must for maximizing pig growth. Set the water nipples at mid-shoulder height or slightly higher, and adjust as the pig grows.9

Ensure there is enough water for the number of animals in the pen. Not enough water can cause problems. The older pig is an impatient drinker. With too slow a rate, pigs become more aggressive, and the pigs at the lower end of the social hierarchy may have less chance to drink. A pig that drinks less, eats less and gains slower.9 There should be about 12–15 pigs per water nipple.

Check the flow rates on all nipples regularly (once a week and before introducing new animals to a pen or barn). The flow rate is 0.7–1 L/min for finisher pigs.10 If pigs have to travel some distance from the feeder to get water, feed intake may be reduced and feed waste increased. It costs feed to have the pigs walk unnecessary distances to the drinkers. In addition, the pigs will carry and drop feed between the drinker and the feeder. It is recommended to have a drinker within 2 m of a dry feeder.11 Producers using wet/dry feeders may provide optional drinkers in the pen; check the feeder manufacturer’s recommendations


Raising pigs to heavier weights may require fewer pigs per pen to prevent overcrowding. The pigs should all be able to lie down and still have walking space to the feeder, water and manure area without trampling others. If pigs are being challenged to get to feed or water, the days to market will increase. Crowding pigs in the finisher barn can lead to a 10% decline in growth rate.12 Overcrowding can lead to health problems, which can increase days to market, feed consumption and costs.

Feed Spoilage

Try to determine the causes of feed spoilage, including too much flow of feed, water leaking in trough, feeder trough in need of repair, poor feeder location or ventilation problems. Check feeders daily for signs of feed blockage, spoilage and waste.

Electronics (switches and alarms)

Check proximity switches that run automated feed systems to make sure they are working and are set properly. Check that your safety switches and alarms are working. Keep a record of when safety switches and alarms were tested and by whom. Testing these the day after a major feed spill, or an out-of-feed event, is not considered a good test, but usually results in the problem being fixed.

Out-of-Feed Events

Out-of-feed events come in all forms and at all times, including feed bridging in grain bins, empty feed bins, feed augers plugging and equipment breakdowns. Research has shown that the pig’s age and amount of time out of feed will determine the economic loss, but the pig’s welfare, performance and productivity can suffer, regardless of age.13 Routine maintenance and regular checking will help reduce these events.


Proper feeder management can help reduce feed waste and feed costs, improving your operation’s bottom line. If your current management strategy relies on seeing pigs eat or having feed in the trough, your feeder could be costing your operation real dollars. Take the time to review your feeder management. Even a few small changes can save money.


1Schell, T., E. van Heugten, A. Harper. 2006. Managing Feed Waste. www.porkgateway.org.

2Gonyou, H.W., and Z. Lou. 1998. Grower/Finisher Feeders: Design, behaviour and performance. Prairie Swine Centre, Inc., Saskatoon. Monograph, 97-01. p. 17.

3Gonyou, H.W. 1999. Feeder and Pen Design to Increase Efficiency. Advances in Pork Production, Volume 10, p. 106.

4Duttlinger A.W., S.S. Dritz, M.D. Tokach, J.M. DeRouchey, J.L. Nelssen, and R.D. Goodband. 2008. Effects of Feeder Adjustment on Growth Performance of Growing and Finishing Pigs. Kansas State Swine Day.

5Myers A.J., R.D. Goodband, M.D. Tokach, S.S. Dritz, J.R. Bergstrom, J.M. DeRouchey, and J.L. Nelssen. 2010. The Effects of Feeder Adjustment on Growth Performance of Finishing Pigs. Kansas State Swine Day.

6Steps to Proper Feeder Adjustment. Kansas State Swine Extension.

7Gonyou, H.W., and Z. Lou. Effects of eating space and availability of water in feeders on productivity and eating. J Anim Sci. 2000. 78:865–870.

8Bergstrom J.R., M.D. Tokach, S.S. Dritz, J.L. Nelssen, J.M. DeRouchey, and R.D. Goodband. 2010. Effects of Feeder Design, Wet-Dry Feeder Adjustment Strategy, and Diet Type on the Growth Performance and Carcass Characteristics of Growing-Finishing Pigs. Kansas State Swine Day.

9Meyer, Vernon M. 2008. Nipple Waters for Swine. Iowa State Extension.

10Brumm, M. 2008. Water Recommendations and Systems for Swine. www.usporkcenter.org.

11Carr J. 2008. Feed Cannot Be Wasted on Pig Farms. The Pig Journal Proceedings, Supplement 1. April 2008.

12Prairie Swine Center. 2009. Feed and Water Check List.

13Brumm M., B. Richert, J. Marchant-Forde, R. Marchant. 2005. Out-of-Feed Events in Grow-Finish Pigs: Causes and consequences. Nebraska Swine Reports.