Managing Water to Maximise Performance

Have you overlooked the most critical nutrient?

Water is the most critical nutrient to sustain life and plays a vital role in most biological functions across all phases of production. It is the largest single component of body composition and represents between 50-80% of body content depending on age. With this article we take a closer look at the key drivers behind water intake in pigs.

  • Drinker availability
  • Drinker position and design
  • Water flow
  • Water quality

Drinker Availability

PIC recommends a ratio of 10 – 12 pigs per water source in nursery pigs (up to 30kg) and grow-finish pigs (30kg to slaughter).

A swinging nipple can be added in high stocking density situations to ensure proper drinker availability.

A swinging nipple can be added in high stocking density situations to ensure proper drinker availability.

Transitioning to a new barn at weaning can cause dehydration in piglets due to stress and an unfamiliar environment. It has been shown that it can take ~35 hours for 85% of pigs to consistently find water. The 15% that is unable to find water by that time will likely become your day 2 and 3 pulls. Consider adding extra water sources the first few days after placement to encourage water intake early. This could be dripping water slowly for 6 hours, having water upon entry in gruel troughs, or even having some water in feeder troughs if it does not affect feed flow or access. Slowly dripping water from bowls or nipples helps pigs locate the water source and begin drinking. Similarly, in high stocking density situations, consider adding extra water sources, such as swinging nipples, gate mounted nipples, or water bars.

Drinker Position and Design

Drinker position plays a role in water consumption, water waste, and overall animal welfare. Nipples at improper positions and heights might increase water waste. Drinkers with nipples at a 90° angle should be set equal to shoulder height of the smallest pig in the pen. Drinkers with nipples at a 60° angle should be set 2-3 inches above shoulder height of the smallest pig in the pen. If using bowl drinkers, the lip of the bowl should be 40% of the height of the smallest pig. Bowl drinkers should be placed near feeders and nipple drinkers should be placed in a wet area of the pen, both with ample space for pigs to feel comfortable accessing them. Regardless of drinker type, be sure to adjust water source height regularly to maximise water intake. Bowl water sources placed too low are more likely to get littered with faecal material.

Proper drinker position for a pig.

Water Flow

Water flow may be one of the most critical but often overlooked steps to managing water access. Ideally, flow rate should be 500 mL to 1L per minute for nursery pigs, and 1 – 1.5L per minute for grow-finish pigs. One simple way to measure flow rate when on farm is by using a spray can lid. Nursery drinkers should fill the lid in 12 seconds. Drinkers for grow-finish pigs should fill the lid in 6 seconds. Drinkers at the sow farm should fill the paint can lid in 3 – 4 seconds.

Between groups, ensure all nipples and bowls are flowing properly. Audit water flow rate in 10% of drinkers on a weekly basis and rotate the drinkers being checked to ensure all get checked periodically. Closely monitor flow rate during the nursery stage; if pressure is too high (>1 L/min), water intake might be reduced in addition to increasing water waste and adding humidity to the environment that will ultimately need to be removed.

If cool cells, misters, or sprinklers are used in warmer months, be sure proper flow rate is maintained during peak usage. This also applies during wash times.

Use a paint can lid
to measure flow rate
when measuring
water flow rates.

Water Quality

Water quality can vary based on regions, water source, and pH. Pigs have been shown to be reasonably resilient if the water quality is consistent from the sow farm to the nursery and on to the finisher. The table below shows the recommended maximum levels of different elements and minerals in water. Pig performance might be affected if concentration levels are exceeded.

Table 1: Recommended maximum levels of different elements and minerals in water, ppm

Nitrate-N + Nitrite-N100440
a Task Force on Water Quality Guidelines, 1987
b National Research Council, 1974

For more information regarding PIC’s recommendations on water quality, listen to The Squeal episode 19: “Nutrient Access and Availability, ensuring a free-flowing and optimum water quality supply”.

Dirty water lines or biofilm build up can have a negative impact on both water quality and flow rate. Check and clean water lines twice a year to remove the presence of any build-up or biofilm. Usually, a peroxide or citric acid-based product works best, but this depends on the water parameters in your barn. Not only do you need to flush the main line, but the removal of nipples may be necessary if they become clogged. Dirty water lines can reduce water flow by up to 30%.

For more information, contact your PIC Technical Services representative.