Training a pig to eat can seem silly.
They should come by this habit naturally, shouldn’t they? They do; however, it is the pig’s natural behavior that must be changed in order to reach its full genetic potential. Determining the proper feeding program will allow your pig to look its best on show day.
Show pig self-feeding behavior
The average show pig will consume 11 to 13 meals per day when offered feed from a self-feeder. Typically, self-feeding pigs will consume these meals during daylight hours as pigs are diurnal (most active during daylight hours), and researchers have found that continuous lighting does not affect total feed intake per day.
Factors that influence intake patterns of self-feeding pigs include the number of pigs per feeder, total space per pig and the availability/form of water. However, these factors will not influence the quantity
of feed consumed per day unless feeder access is impacted. That is, if there are too many pigs per feeder space, or too many pigs in a given pen space. If that is the circumstance, pigs will demonstrate nocturnal feeding patterns and rise during the night to consume a sufficient amount of feed to meet their energy requirements.
Of course, other factors come into play during self-feeding, such as social order, speed of consumption and timid and/or aggressive eaters.
The social order of pigs dictates which pig(s) will be dominant at the feeder; and you will see that dominant pigs are the more aggressive eaters. For example, if you were to hand-feed six pigs in the same pen, you would find that a number of them will eat aggressively while subordinates will eat timidly, directly effecting growth rate. Competition at the feeder not only speeds up the time it takes to eat a meal, it can influence the quantity consumed as well.
Water and eating habits
Water intake is incredibly important to the health of your pig and is directly related to feed consumption. If you find that your show pig is not meeting its daily feed requirements, your first instinct should be to assess its water source. Pigs should always have access to water that is clean, fresh and abundant. Feeding pigs without providing an adequate amount of water or providing low quality water will always result in an unsatisfactory outcome.
Water is also useful in getting pigs to eat faster and larger meals. Adding enough water to a pig’s meal to produce a paste-like consistency will increase the speed at which a meal is consumed. By providing enough water from a clean source, you can help ensure that your pig will consume enough feed.
Show pig feeding methods
In order to train your show pigs to consume the desired amount of feed in only two meals per day, your effort must be to overcome their natural instincts and eating habits/behaviors.
Three feeding methods are most commonly used in preparing a pig for show:
- Self-feeding: the pig decides when and how much to eat per day
- Hand-fed: the owner decides when and how much the pig will eat per day.
- Two meals per day; morning and evening
- Combination self-feeding/hand feeding: the pig is generally fed through a self-feeder until it reaches 100 to 150 pounds and is then hand-fed until show time
It is crucial that when you would like to limit growth rate, your pig is already trained to consume two, 10-minute meals per day. If not, it can be frustrating to get pigs to consume the amount and type of feed products that you want them to consume.
Hand feeding versus limit feeding show pigs
It is important to note that hand feeding is very different from limit feeding. When a show pig is hand fed, the exhibitor or pig’s owner determining how much feed to place in a feeder (of any type) per day. Limit feeding is giving the pig less than it wants to eat per day (usually somewhat less than 90% of what normal feed intake).
If you give a 100 lb. show pig 4 lbs. of feed in the morning, there is feed remaining in the feeder that evening, and you give it an additional 2 to 4 lbs.; you are not limit feeding. The pig is determining how much it will eat per day, which is considered self-feeding.
If you are feeding in this manner and attempt to include Powerfill show feed supplement
as a topdress, your show pig will more than likely reject it. The pig should clean up each meal in 10 minutes or less, and if so, it becomes much easier to introduce topdress, Powerfill, beet pulp and other supplements.
Powerfill™ is very different in taste and texture when compared to pelleted showpig feeds. Powerfill contains ground beet pulp which causes it to be a bit gritty. Pig owners sometimes feel that their pigs do not like Powerfill. However, a distaste for this product usually occurs when a pig has been taken off of full feed and introduced to HIGH OCTANE®
Powerfill™ on a “cold turkey” basis. Naturally, a pig will refuse to eat when HIGH OCTANE®
Powerfill™ is introduced in this manner.
Training your show pig
It is much easier if you train the pig to eat what you desire at an early age (or lighter weight). If you wait until the pig is heavier (over 200 lbs.) and older, training will be a challenge.
The end goal is to feed that pig what you want, not what it wants. Of course, it is a challenge to introduce a new feeding program to your show pig at times. Instead of giving your pig the choice to eat how much and what kind of feed (or topdress) it likes, give it one choice and allow it to eat or be hungry.
For example, if you decide to transition a pig from self-feeding to limit feeding with HIGH OCTANE®
Powerfill™ in the diet (along with pellets), you will want to follow these steps:
- Remove the self-feeders and replace with hanging feeders
- Remove the feeder 10 – 12 hours prior to the first hand-fed meal
- Reduce the initial meal to a half serving
- Ex: if you want to feed 2 pounds per feeding, offer 1 pound at this meal
- Give the show pig 10 minutes to eat, and then remove any remaining feed
- Repeat step four for the second feeding
- Note: meals should be 10 – 12 hours apart at the same time(s) each day
- When the pig consumes all of the feed offered, increase the next feeding to a full meal
- If the pig is eating slowly, hand or limit feed another pig in close proximity to get the first pig to increase the speed of intake
- Note: you want the second pig to make the first pig eat faster, but not have access to it’s feed. Make sure there is a barrier between the pigs, but one that they can see through
This technique is critical because in order to help fulfill the genetic potential of your show pig, you may need to tweak the diet several times in a short period. If you see that a pig is in need of muscle, cover, rib shape or fill, you must be able to control what the pig takes in. At times, these dietary changes must be done daily until you have the pig headed in the direction you desire. If the pig constantly balks at what you are attempting to feed, it cannot look the best on show day.
Keep in mind that the pig’s appearance as it steps into the show ring is of vital importance. Getting the pig to peak physical appearance depends upon what it eats and how it eats.
You have a great deal of influence over what the pig looks like as it is being judged. Just as you train the pig to respond to your direction in the show ring, you should also train your pig to eat.