Dave Klocke, President/Founder of Pig Easy and Pork Producer
Hello there. This is Dr. Casey Bradley and you’re listening to The Real P3 podcast, a podcast dedicated to the real pork producers around the world. I hope you enjoy.
I think you’re all gonna like this episode. We’re gonna be speaking with Dave Klocke with Pig Easy. Not only does he design and develop equipment for the swine producer, he is a swine producer. So, obviously, what he designs performs in his system and meets his needs. He finds solutions to the problems that we need for our industry. So, we’re gonna be talking about sow feeding. We’re gonna talk about the meal-meter and how he designed a system that feeds the sow to her needs, and how to get wet-dry feeding right in sow systems. So, stay tuned.
Casey: Hello, Dave! How are you doin’ today?
Dave: I’m doin well. How are you, Casey?
C: Great. Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about your operation to the audience?
D: Sure. My name is Dave Klocke. I am first and foremost a pork producer from western Iowa, near Templeton. I have 2700 sow farrow-wean operation and I retain ownership in those weaned pigs through grow-finish. I’m also the founder and president of Pig Easy, LLC. Pig Easy, LLC’s a company I started formally back in 2013. I did have some products on the market prior to that, but uh, formally formed the company in 2013 and have been operating that ever since.
C: Well, I was gonna say, I was probably one of your first customers and I’ve always loved your Pig AI Saddle before I even knew it was Pig Easy.
D: Yeah, we really didn’t brand it in the early days. We sold it through some suppliers, had been doing that since uh, actually I think about ‘98 or ‘99.
C: Really? Wow.
C: So, if anybody doesn’t know Pig Easy. Their stuff is designed for pork production because we have our challenges, and who can solve ‘em better than a producer? So, I really have loved to learn this story and learn stuff about Pig Easy and your products. But, today let’s talk about sow feed intake. It’s summertime. We’re gonna struggle getting feed intake in our lactating sows. What has been your experience in that struggle?
D: You know I think we often, as long as I’ve been a pork producer, the, uh, summer infertility, you know a lot of thoughts and rationales are put to that to explain it. I think the biggest one, first and foremost, is feed intake, just because the hot, humid weather, and I don’t think [03:00] the industry as a whole has come up with solutions to overcome the limited intake that happens, you know, primarily in the lactation area in the summertime.
C: So, are you trying to say it’s the feed’s fault or not?
D: Yeah, it is the default. People just have come to accept it. It’s hot, sows just aren’t going to eat as much… I don’t think that’s necessarily gotta be the case.
C: Now, so in your system, prior to your inventions or even today, what does your seasonal infertility look like? I know you’re probably I think running 90s conception rate. I was talkin’ to your manager a couple weeks ago, but kind of how far do you dip in your system in the summer?
D: We see very minimal dip as far as days to estrus and farrow rates and such things from the summertime. I might say, year in and year out, maybe it’s even a little bit better because living in a hog-dense area in western Iowa, you know, we may see more problems with issues with the PURRS or what-not in other seasons of the year. I’ve come to expect that, you know, our intake is… really don’t suffer in the summertime. Probably the only challenge, I think, we see, and I think the industry also sees – which, you know, it’s rolled into that seasonal infertility – is maybe just the, uh, corn quality that we are, hate to say it but, kind of stuck with in the middle of summer. Bottom of the bin syndrome, as I’ve heard it described, and I think that’s accurate. I always said if we could put our corn in the big refrigerator and save it for late summer, seasonal infertility would not exist.
C: Interesting perspectives. But obviously, we can’t put ‘em in refrigerators. [05:00] We got what we got. What are you doing differently, and take us through that mindset shift, when you were designing your wet-dry feeder. Or, I guess it’s not even a dry, it’s a wet feeder, so…
D: You know I think recognizing the problem is always the first step and then digging into ways to work through it. Um… so over the years we had tried different ad-lib systems for feeding and lactation, with varying success, and I guess I just didn’t really accept that to be acceptable. We had gone to feeding water when we would feed the sows. Wet-feeding, so to speak. I think a lot of producers do that, and I think that is a big help. So, as I was developing the meal-meter ad-lib system, I just knew it had to be a wet-dry system, because we all know that we get better intake in grow-finish. What we’ve seen in farrowing sows, they like wet feed. So, it’s important to build that into the system. I think that’s a big important part of it.
C: I was just thinking, you know, we jumped right into wet-try and talked about ad-lib and feeding. How long have you been feeding ad-lib to your sows?
D: Oh, probably 15 years or more. Before I developed the meal-meter, I had other ad-lib systems in that I tried. So about 15 years.
C: I guess, you know, wow. I was gonna say, it’s back when I was working for Kalmbach, it wasn’t that long ago, that a lot of people started switching to ad-libbin’ feeders, and you know, as you said, and in my opinion, as we switched and transitioned to that, we made a lot of mistakes along the way, and what we don’t do a good job about, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, is understanding our lactation feed efficiency, or wastage.
C: And so, what can even be done incorrectly? So, explain what is your ideal ratio of water to feed for those sows?
D: Well, and I think that’s part of the trick, is I think these sows all have their individual preferences. I don’t know that there is a standard. And I don’t think there’s a standard throughout the sows’ individual lactation period. As I’ve watched sows eat, I see them, some of them, eat a lot of dry feed early in lactation and as they move further into lactation, they’re putting a lot more water with it. But I think it is very individual preference scenario, but I think the biggest driver or hindrance to successful ad-lib feeding, and I don’t think it’s addressed much, is a clean bowl. And I think that’s the challenge of the typical ad-lib dispenser or feeder for lactating sows.
C: You went on my pet-peeve by the [08:00] way. I can’t stand dirty bowls. And people not cleaning out the corners and you see the mold and you say, “Why are they not eating?” I always do bowl scores, every farm I go into, because that is my number one pet peeve. So… by the way, your farm passed.
D: I’m so thrilled to hear that. You know, it is a big deal, and I agree with that, and I think that is one of the stand-out benefits of our system is that because, number 1, it’s a wet-dry feeder, so they get the preference they want, but it also drives – the way it’s designed – it drives the bowl to stay clean. I think one of the biggest misnomers that people have when they look at our system and our dispenser is, well, you can’t adjust it, you just gotta play with it until the bowl is feed. And bowls get full of feed not because she over-dispenses but because, if she didn’t clean up her previous meal, the next time she gets up to eat, she’s not gonna clean up what was there, she’s gonna go up and get some fresh feed and lay it on top of the stale feed. You layer that a few times and pretty soon you get a bowl half full of feed and the assumption when we show up and look is, “Wow, she just dispensed a lot of feed.” No, she was after fresh feed which she put on top of the stale feed. And I’m also believer a sow will eat more feed out of a clean bowl. They have a very…
C: I know they do.
D: Absolutely. And so, I think a big driver and benefit of our system, the Pig Easy Lactation Bowl system, is that it drives a clean bowl. She cleans up what she eats, she takes a drink and has kind of washed her bowl down. So, she lays down, next time she gets up, she can start with a clean plate.
C: I mean I’m a proponent of wet-dry feeding. I’ve even worked in liquid systems, if ran right work really well. [10:00] You know, I’ve had customers and worked with systems that even feed liquid whey to gestation sows, and I’ve seen that in Europe. I think the biggest thing is we assume pigs like nasty stuff, so if we get that off smell, it’s the right nasty stuff; and mold and rotten feed is not usually one of them. We talk about wet, I’ve seen many ways of trying to do wet, so some of these ad-libbing feeders that we have cannot be a wet feeder, by the way. It just wouldn’t work. The pvc pipes with the balls in the bottom, you can’t really make that wet. The hog-slat SDI ones that I’ve seen, I’m not sure I’d want to make that wet either. But I’ve seen some wet-dry feeders and instead of filling up the feed, I see it fill up with water and so we’ve got about five gallons of water potentially in this feeder, and then you drop the feed in it, this automatic system, and where does the feed go? It goes into the pit.
C: And then, you know, the sows that you say are wasting feed, I say if they’re wasting feed, the feed is going into the pit and that’s kind of playing, and to me that’s an indication – from a nutrition standpoint – is something wrong with that feed?
D: Yep, I’d agree with that.
C: Cause I just, I don’t see animals just play in the feed to play in the feed. There’s usually something wrong, they’re trying to sort something out. Is it in the feeder itself, is it a problem with the feed? And so, just cautionary, if you see that happening, something’s wrong, right? And maybe more finisher pigs you can mis-adjust your feeders and you get over-dispensing and they do waste feed, but a sow, you know… and in your mind, what’s your ideal feed intake for your sows?
D: Well, it’s just, or boar, whatever she wants every day. I don’t know that… Once again, I go back to the individual preference, that you can design a feed curve I think is a misnomer, [12:00] because what I’ve seen is that sows will eat 20 pounds for 2 days, and then back off to 10 for a day or two, and who are we to say? You know, that’s what she wanted to do. I don’t think it’s something we should be telling the sow what she can have. So, you know, when you’re talking about average intakes, I think 14-15lbs a day is doable, and I think with the productivity of these sows today, with weaning these large litters of large pigs and expecting them to breed back, I think that’s kind of a necessity.
C: Yep. Very interesting. I was gonna say, I had a conversation this week, of all things, talking about feed intake curves, and looking at different curves and, you know, I like my sows to plateau on feed intake ideally day 5-7 into lactation, the latest 10. Looking at a feed curve set to plateau at 10-12 days. That was the biggest thing I learned, I think, as a nutritionist and working in integrated systems, I remembered the stair-step system, when I was at New Fashion Pork, that every day she could get another pound and another pound and then day 7 you could feed her whatever she wanted. Then, we totally had that mindset shift that we started, okay, after, you know, 24 hours give her all that she wants. And I’ve weighed enough buckets of feed in my career that I know that as you said, some sows will gorge themselves and then back off, and some sows… you know. And I think what’s interesting, if you really watch it, it’s when the pigs are growing, right?
C: And so, having a son, I really noticed his growth spurts. It’s not like a steady line like everybody thinks it is, and so I think it’s interesting if we really watched it, I think it changes with the change of the litter as well, so. [14:00]
D: Yeah, and going back to the individual preference of the sows, I mean we know from studies that have been done on eating styles and eating habits, we know in grow-finish, there are distinct eating types. We talk about nibblers and gorgers and everything in between. So, does that just disappear when they become an adult and turn into a sow? I would say it probably doesn’t. So, once again, I don’t think we know enough. But I know we don’t know enough to just say a sow should eat this. I mean, averages are dangerous to start saying, “Our average needs to be this.” Well, on average they’re wrong, so…
C: We should ‘a brought Hyatt Frobose onto this, and we could’ve had some good discussions of really understanding that lactation feed intake. We were talking about feed intake is… nobody really measures it, nobody selects on it, and then we were talking about how expensive feed is now. Where are we $7 over or $7/bushel pf corn. And he was, we were talking to a producer kinda working through things together, talking about well, we may wanna back ‘em off feed in late lactation, because it may be cheaper. And I’m like… and I see that, I don’t ever really wanna back ‘em off in the beginning by any means, but I think that’s important, if you’re not getting good feed intake, let’s go do some feeder bowl scores, because I think there’s a problem there potentially. Then, you can maybe talk to your nutritionist, but I usually like to go through and do body condition scoring and, um, on the wean row, and I like to do feeder bowl scores, and usually that tells me a lot about maybe where the challenge is, is it truly the feeder bowls. Now, in your farm, with your system, cause the motto is “Feed her her way” – did I say that right? [16:00]
C: And I like the “I don’t like to average” – we like to work on averages, and I don’t think that’s where I like it either, but… how often do the sows get up? Does your crew have to go in and get them up or are they naturally get up, do you think?
D: The vast, ,mass majority get up on their own. We do, as the staff goes through in the morning through lactation, protocol is to get them up in the morning once, so we know they’re up and there’s no lameness issues and so on-so forth. But most importantly, we make sure that there’s been feed disappearance, that the feed has moved down in the tube. We really don’t measure the feed or watch how much, but we know that she’s been up and that she eats, or has eaten. The interesting thing that we see – and we see it every year – as we go, you know, usually it’s about the first week or two in June, that we ask the staff to watch the feed tubes. If we have very many feed tubes empty in the morning, where they’ve eaten the 12 pounds that’s in the tube, it just tells us they are doing more eating overnight. They’re getting up through the night and their intake overnight is heavier, so then we move our feed line fill from afternoon to overnight to make sure that when they want to do their eating – and some sows do most all their eating at night – as it gets hot, that obviously that the feed’s available to them.
C: Yeah, and that’s come up in conversations as well. If you pull the Gestal data or the Nedap system data, it’s really intriguing on the group house sows in the electronic sow feeding, when you look at some of that data, how many of them eat at night, and – of course, I ran a crazy finisher trial with some similar equipment – how early they’re getting up and eating. I think that’s a natural behavior, and we talk about the limitations of our feed systems, so if you’re still hand-feeding hoppers, yeah, you’re probably gonna run out of feed when they want it. And then even some of these systems, like you said, chain disks are more expensive, nice things about chain disks is you can run ‘em and just top everybody off. So is that something you want to look at in new designs. Or just like you said, changing the times of when they fill. Of course, there’s a risk, right? Two ton of feed in the pit risk has happened, so… [laughter] It’s not a good day when you see that.
D: No, but, you know, if you’ve got things set up well, equipment-wise and the staff understands the importance of… if a crate is empty, the tube needs to be either shut off or left into the boot, those types of things, and they do. We see very little of that. Things can happen, we all know that, but with our system, we really want to avoid what Katie Holtz refers to as FOMO – fear of missing out – that it’s always available. If the meal-meter runs empty too much, it can cause some sows to over-dispense other times, though. Their reaction is when the feed is here, I’m gonna make sure I got it. So, we like to see feed available to them, just almost all the time, you know, in the meal-meter system.
We wanna take this break to thank our sponsors, The Sunswine Group, NutraSign, Swine Nutrition Management and Pig Progress. But we also wanted to remind you of our new Facebook group, the Global Swine Professionals. We’re gonna be doing something fun; some live interviews, some Q&A and we just wanna hear from our audience, so that’s a great place for you to take the time, leave us a comment, tell us what you wanna hear, or volunteer to be on our show, because we’re always looking for those awesome pork producers around the world. Well, that’s all I had, so let’s get back to that episode now.
C: I know we were talking about lactation, but I think this kinda goes into success in that conception rate, wean to estrus and you not having that fall-off. You’ve taken the concept, if I understand right, originally developed for lactation and put it in the breed row. And a lot of times, you know, in the past working in production, we’ve brought lactation feed out to our sows on the breed row, we’d have people going in there 2-3 times a day hand feeding. If I walk in a gestation barn, that’s usually my messiest row, feed all over the alley, you know, plugged up water lines, if it’s a trough water system. Talk about the advantages of having “her feed, her way” in the breed row and the success that you’ve seen in your system.
D: What’s key and fundamental here is that… this sow is preparing for her reproductive stage, her next reproductive stage, while she’s in farrowing. So, losing too much body stores will affect her next parity, her cycle prime and all that stuff. But it’s also, it continues through that breeding period, having enough either energy store or taking in enough energy to take her through that estrus-cycle. When you think about what so many farms do, with pushing feed and using ad-lib in farrowing, and now we go right to breeding stall and everything changes; now we want to go back from ad-lib feeding to you’re gonna eat when we feed you. It just made a lot of sense to put the meal-meter in the breeder bowl in front of our sows in that breed row. And what we see is just, you know, better intakes, consistently good intakes, very little waste, little to no waste really, because our sows go down to that breed row in consistently good condition. Where we feel like we need to get them [22:00] over 8 lbs a day consistently; we used to push a lot more, and just found that it probably wasn’t necessary. You know, if you can get ‘em the energy they need on a daily basis, that means every day in that wean to estrus period, which I think is, I can safely say is, that 8-10lb range, you know, you’re gonna accomplish all your goals that you need to do there. But I think a lot of it goes back to just what we talked about lactation: if there’s stale feed laying everywhere, around the sow in that g-stall, I think feel like they just don’t eat as well on the fresh feed you give ‘em. They just eat better when they have minimal wasted and stale feed laying around them. And so that’s accomplished with using a meal-meter and the breeder bowl. Once again, that’s wet-dry feeder.
C: You know, the biggest thing I noticed on your farm, you know, I’m gonna compliment on the lactation feed bowl scores, but you know same genetics on another farm, you don’t have any lameness issues. The other farms have lameness issues.
C: It just makes me ponder myself; is that because we’re slowing down the eating? Like, you know, fear of missing out, gorge myself, feed even in the breed row, or even gestation, lactation, we’re allowing them to kinda slow down and eat their way. I wonder if that’s helping also mineral digestibility; shout out to your nutritionist, I think it’s ok to say, Casey Neal with Pipestone System, really nice sound animals there, and I just wonder if it is that wet-dry feeder, the ability for her to consume how she wants. What are your thoughts on that in your system?
D: You may have a point there as to nutritionist, you may be exactly right. But I tend to give the credit first of all to the staff, but secondly is [24:00] if sows don’t lose a lot of body stores through lactation and we are able to quickly get them back into perfect condition because they haven’t lost that many body stores, I think a lot of that lameness comes from animals that are maybe weakened to start with.
C: Oh yeah, if she’s losin’ fat, if she’s losin’ muscle, she’s also losin’ bone. And then she’s gotta put bone back on and so… no, I agree.
D: Our loss to lameness is absolutely minimal. So, as I hear about that being one of the number one issues for culling; it certainly isn’t the case in my farm.
C: Well, I didn’t have a success in my PhD as much with getting really lame animals and I think – I’m looking back on it – I was able to maintain good condition of my sows, too. Everybody was quite impressed, so I think that was one of the things I learned, definitely, in an integrated system, like you said, keeping condition on ‘em and… You know, we want ‘em to lose some, but not… you know, these, I go on these farms and it’s a tidal wave, right? We’ve got good condition here in this group. We’ve got bad condition there. We’ve got good… you know, and we’ve got obese here, and there’s just no consistent pattern to some of these sows. And I think you’re right, it’s causing that.
Well, before we go, is there any questions you have for me? It’s the time to turn the table.
D: Well, I mean, you just brought up the point of one of the things you learned in your nutritional studies. Aside of that, what would you say would be as applicable to today’s producers with what we’ve gone on, what was probably the biggest lesson you learned in all of your studies through nutrition?
C: I think I had a little different approach to nutrition. My PhD and my masters wasn’t – and my lab – wasn’t really focused maybe on titration type studies, nutrient studies; [26:00] we were focused on the integration of immunology in nutrition and health. And I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned through that: there’s a lot more variation in immune systems in our sows, which translates, you know, into litters. And we don’t have a good grasp on that of how to… obviously, if we want those pigs to succeed when they leave the sow, and even maybe sometimes in the farrowing house, is how can we get, as you said you wanna feed her, her way, but how can we get a more of an average immune status. I think it is the biggest thing I see as opportunity in things I learned. Obviously, you know, I’ve raised pigs in all different environments and conditions. Some people say you gotta get sows up so many times a day, uh, the sows gotta each so much this day… Everybody has an opinion, but I think we need to do a deeper dive into understanding the whys and the hows. I think there’s more intersections of nutrition with health, with genetics even, and we need to get out of our silos and we all need to be at the table and talking. I want the production staff there, I want the veterinarians there, I want the geneticists there, and the nutritionists, right? And then maybe even bring in the consumer, and I don’t think we do that enough. So, I guess maybe that’s what I’ve learned is that it’s not always about average daily gain or lysine grams per day, as you said. I think cause it’s more of an ebb and flow and we don’t understand that, and we like to feed to that average.
D: The good news is that we all have a lot to learn, right?
C: Yep, I have job security!
C: It makes it fun, too, right? Dave, I really appreciate it. Hopefully, the audience have learned: fresh feed, good bowl scores. If you’re interested in a wet system that works really well, reach out to Pig Easy. Dave, how do they reach you or Pig Easy for more information?
D: You can access our website at www.pigeasy.com with our contact information on there.
C: And if you have any questions, you know you can always reach out to me as well and we’ll put you in contact with who you need to talk to. But there is a reason it’s called Pig Easy, a pig producer who designs stuff and makes it easy to implement. So, I appreciate your time and thank you everyone.
D: Thank you, Casey.
Before we go, we wanna thank our sponsors again. Swine Nutrition Management, NutraSign, Pig Progress and The Sunswine Group. Don’t forget to join our Facebook: the Global Swine Professionals. And as always, if you get a chance, hug a pig for me today.