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Critical role of water in pig production

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Jamie Robertson is director of Livestock Management Systems Ltd in the UK, and an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh Royal School of Veterinary Studies. In a recent address to the Irish Pig Health Society, Jamie outlined the critical role of water in pig production

Pigs and water
Jamie outlined the findings in a recent research report for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), which confirm the probability that the UK may need to change from primarily managing antibiotics as a feed additive and moving towards the more typical EU model of providing medications through the water system. Water systems are the prime delivery mechanisms for medications in the poultry industry. The questions for the pig sector are straightforward, as Jamie explained: “How much water is required in each pig group pen? How do we define best access to water for specific pig sizes? How do we define and manage water quality?” Jamie suggested that the answer to the first question would appear easy: “Look up the relevant tables and do some maths. The major problem is that water consumption through the pig and water disappearance from the system are not the same thing. Data indicates a range of measured water disappearance from similar types of pigs. Water losses are considerable and expensive and, until losses are understood, there is little chance of accuracy in delivering medication through the water supply.”

Water content
The UK-based speaker outlined research indicating that the approximate content of water in all pig manure (nursery, grower, finishing) is 90.8 per cent, a figure confirmed by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers. He added that research conducted by the Prairie Swine Centre in Canada estimated that as much as 40 per cent of the water delivered to a pig through a standard nipple drinker is actually wasted, and does not contribute to production. Other studies report that newborn pigs can waste more than 25 per cent of the water that disappears from their drinker bowls, and growing/ finishing pigs may waste up to 60 per cent of the water from a standard nipple drinker. Jamie also quoted research by Phillips et al indicating that spillage by sows varies from 23 to 80 per cent of water use, depending on the flow rate. This incurs considerable expense on pig producers, as Jamie explained: “Under the assumption that up to 40 per cent of water is ‘wasted’ and does not contribute to production, it is estimated that this results in a C$0.70 per pig expense to dispose of the additional liquid manure.” There are management systems that minimise water wastage. Jamie gave figures from an on-farm study which compared water usage in swine farrow-to-finish facilities that employed wet/dry feeders and more traditional dry feeders with standard nipple drinkers: “Pigs using the wet/ dry feeders consumed 17.2 per cent less water than pigs using the dry feeders with standard nipple drinkers. One advantage of the reduced water wastage in the wet/dry feeders was a reduction in the amount of manure moved from the building.”

 Water and health 

On the subject of maintaining water quality, Jamie said: “The pig industry has a solid awareness of the value of biosecurity, of working buildings ‘all in, all out’, and of the various attributes of different cleaning regimes. Watersystems hygiene is a little more suspect, and in the UK, at least, there is significant room for improving water hygiene to the benefit of pig health and performance.” He concluded that farm-water systems need to be cleaned, and then routinely cleaned, but there are risks involved that need to be understood first.

Water hygiene
“Good water management requires routines and measurement like any other input. The targets are to check flow rates at the point of delivery to the pigs on a regular basis, and to check microbiology at a frequency that reflects how clean the water actually is. Many farms use water from boreholes, and the recommendation is that boreholes are checked for microbiology and total dissolved solids (TDS) on an annual basis. A database of 140 borehole water samples from the UK showed that 80 per cent were within target parameters, which clearly indicates that there is room for improvement.”

Cleaning water systems 
“Water should initially be checked at source for microbiological contamination, as well as at any exit from primary source storage. Large storage tanks should be emptied at least annually and sanitised using a suitable water disinfectant, depending on the type and degree of contamination observed. Heavy sediments need to be physically removed from tanks, and consideration should be given to treating water further on entry and certainly on exit from these tanks if mineral or microbiological limits are exceeded. Pipes between primary and secondary storage should be disrupted and examined for gross contamination. As part of routine annual maintenance, a water treatment based on removing scale/iron/manganese build-up and biofilm in these areas should be considered. "Secondary water storage tanks should be sanitised with each fill of the building they supply, along with the pipes and drinkers they feed. An ongoing and permanent chemical additive may then be required if source water is contaminated, or health challenges are present in these buildings. Treatment of continually occupied buildings or buildings where animals are present is possible but requires care and suitable chemical agents.”
 
Eliminating water wastage 
The American researcher Glen Almond has many years’ experience assessing the impact of water delivery on pig units. His top tips for optimising water management include repairing leaky drinkers and pipes that can waste substantial amounts of water: “A single leak may cause more water loss in a day than the amount consumed by all of the pigs in the building on that day.” Another top tip is that nipple-drinker height can make a big difference in water waste: “A drinker should be at snout level, or just above the pig’s backline. In addition, worn O-rings can reduce water flow or dramatically increase it. Bowl or cup drinkers can cut waste up to 15 per cent, compared to mounted drinkers.” He warns, however, that contamination with faeces may be a problem, and animals may refuse to drink. Therefore, the bowls or cups need frequent cleaning.
 
Using water well
Almond was also quoted as advising that pressure washing is extremely important for animal health and should not be compromised: “In terms of managing water use, be careful to stop the flow when not directing the nozzle to remove dirt, feed and so forth. Even though pre-soaking uses water, it does reduce pressure-washing time. Water meters monitor use and detect waste.” At minimum, Almond recommends having a whole-farm water meter to record total weekly water use in the operation. Additional meters are required to regulate or manipulate water usage by changing drinkers in a building. His conclusion is that the attitude that water is cheap, and, therefore, not worthy of much attention, is too widespread, and attitudes need to change: “Regular maintenance of existing systems and equipment is needed to ensure efficient operation. Meters should be used to monitor water usage.” He further advises isolating and emptying troughs when not in use, and using bowser tanks or pumping from a nearby source to supply water to troughs. This, he says, reduces the length of pipework and associated leak risks. Ball valves on troughs should be adjusted to prevent overflow and smaller troughs introduced that require less water for cleaning.

Tags: the Irish Pig Health Society pig production water wastage water hygiene Cleaning water systems