Wilfred Bankers refilling the dis- penser – it’s the only thing he needs to do with dispensing milk.

central element in the kitchen is the dispenser, as this model mixes 1 litre at the time – again fully automatically, only the circuit demands a refill. That way there will always be fresh amounts of milk, in consistent amounts, ready for consump- tion at any given moment of the day. The only thing farmers or caretakers have to do is fill up the milk powder reservoir from time to time. The system will take care of the rest. With three buttons, for starting, filling and cleaning, the entire concept can be managed – all in all easy to learn.

The Opticare dispenser makes 1 litre of milk a day.

Context and benefits of cups The development of the novel cup system with automatic dispensers should be seen in the context of a reduction of the management toolkit European farmers have to get their pig- lets through weaning. For a long time, antibiotic growth pro- moters (AGPs), zinc or copper were added to young animal nutrition to avoid negative side-effects during weaning. In the EU, AGPs have been forbidden for a decade, the same will

happen with the therapeutic usage of zinc oxide throughout the EU by 2022 and also levels of copper are being brought down. Mr Van der Bruggen says, “Essentially, the training is about making the gut get used to protein from plant origin, i.e. pig feed. Originally, a piglet will receive protein from animal origin, i.e. milk.” To that end, the company introduced a three-step phase feed (available in liquid and solid form) during lactation several years ago, with ingredients gradual- ly changing as the pigs grow older. With the training, start- ing from day 2, the pigs’ guts get better prepared for what is to come later in life, he says – and that allows the pig to ful- ly express its genetic potential. According to Mr Van der Bruggen, this philosophy pays off at various moments in a pig’s life. He says, “At weaning, the piglets will be 400 g heavier; and at 26-27 kg the difference is 1.2 kg heavier.” Ad- ditional benefits, according to Mr Van der Bruggen, include that pigs grow more uniform and that the system will help increase the number of pigs weaned. All in all, pig farmers reap the benefit with sending more pigs more uniformly to slaughterhouse at an earlier age or heavier weight. In a hy- pothetical calculation involving a farm with roughly 30,000 piglets produced/year, profit using the Opticare approach could be around € 30,000, with details varying from farm to farm.

In practice at Bankers farm In practice on-farm, the piglets will usually first will drink with the sow. Should a piglet after a drinking session still be hungry, it can move over to one of the cups, which always is located close to the sow’s head (to keep a close connection with the mother) and the heated piglet nest. The result, as could be read in the introductory paragraph, is that the pig- lets can digest plant-derived feed well already before wean- ing. At Bankers farm, cup feeding has one additional advan- tage: it helps to create foster sows within the own age group. To create foster sows, after about five days, one pen side is simply lifted, effectively creating one pen consisting of two litters and two sows in their farrowing crates. This XL pen is then supplemented by the piglets of a third sow, which in turn can function as foster sow for those in need of some extra attention. This approach is perfectly possible, as the farm works with the cup system. This will ensure that all pigs have plenty to drink all day long. Rather than being an option Swinco is promoting, this possibility shows the op- portunities available for swine producers. For Mr Bankers, all in all applying the new system has proven positive, he says. “In general, I can see that the pigs eat fantastically and that’s what my farm workers tell me as well. On top, I deliver my grower pigs to Germany and Belgium at about 26 kg. I’m always short of piglets I can send there, i.e. they are in high demand. From them I never have any critical feedback as well – in our business that is a positive sign.”

8 ▶ ALL ABOUT FEED | Volume 27, No. 3, 2019

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