Set a high water-mark for pig growth rates

Water must be one of the most talked-about subjects in the UK, whether when falling from the sky, its effects on the current harvest or being delivered to our pigs.

It is certainly under-recognised as an important element of what we provide for the animals under our care.
We all know that there are the ‘standards’ that need to be adhered to, but what are the likely effects on pig productivity of providing their water in the wrong way?
We discuss, at great length, growth rates and feed conversion ratios (FCR) within the feeding herd, aiming to make changes within management and on-farm systems to gain a few extra grams of growth or decrease our FCR by a tiny fraction.

Water provision is something that can be overlooked, however, and there could be a huge payback if you spend a small amount of time investigating whether you are providing what your pigs really need.

Flow rates is a major area where farms could quickly fall behind, with nipples or ball valves becoming blocked by small deposits of organic or inorganic matter. Taking a small amount of time to measure how much water is actually produced from each point in every pen will make sure that pigs continue to eat most efficiently and continue to grow to their potential. Sows will also benefit by producing greater volumes of milk during their lactations, since they can require upwards of 50 litres of water per day at peak production (25 minutes on a nipple that is running at the recommended 2l per minute).

“Taking a small amount of time to measure how much water is actually produced from each point in every pen will make sure that pigs continue to eat most efficiently”

As we take our pigs to heavier weights, the position of drinkers becomes increasingly important to check. Nipples in finisher pens can end up being too high to reach for grower pigs at the point of entry, while older-style finishing pens can have nipples that are too low, both of which will compromise the growth rates that can be achieved.

Water quality should be checked for anomalies that would affect the pigs, particularly where it is sourced from a borehole on site. Water at source should be free of any bacterial contamination, along with a minimal concentration of major impurities (such as iron or sulphate). Later stage testing of water systems along the pipework would show if there was contamination on farm, for example from header tank sediment or biofilms in the pipes.

These would benefit from regular sanitisation to remove constant exposure to pigs of high levels of bacteria, along with keeping flow rates high.

Finally, although difficult to keep clean, gross faecal contamination of troughs and nipples should be removed to encourage increased water intakes.
Pigs certainly have a robust gut that can deal with a huge number of things being ‘thrown’ at it, without leading to disease or issues, but anything we can do to make it easier, from a taste and infection point of view, will help us get the best from our animals.

Duncan Berkshire is lead vet within the five-vet pig team at Bishopton Veterinary Group, based in Yorkshire
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