Jane Jordan reports on a high-tech, management-free system which makes dosing simple, indoors and out
With clean drinking water now regarded as a prerequisite within health improvement and disease control programmes, producers are eagerly seeking innovative, labour-saving technologies that can deliver a consistent clean supply to their pigs 24/7.
But providing clean, good quality water to every pig on a farm, all of the time, can be challenging, and perhaps more so in outdoor situations.
Contented Products introduced the pioneering Merlin Clean Water System to its portfolio around 18 months ago. The comprehensive water treatment plant is capable of stabilising water quality and precisely dosing whatever supplements/ additives are required. It provides assurance that all drinking water is hygienic and stays that way to the point of consumption.
Chemically treating water supplies to prevent and minimise the risk of microbial contamination is now commonplace in pig production, according to Tom Neat of Contended Products. However, Merlin differs from other treatment/dosing systems as it can be used on indoor and outdoor farms.
“Although sophisticated, this technology is flexible and offers pig farmers a hassle-free means of controlling water quality,” he said.
The on-farm treatment plant is supplied complete and simply ‘plumbs in’ to the incoming water supply – be it mains tap or supplied from a borehole. The technology can be installed in an existing building or supplied as a secure, self-contained, mobile unit. Once connected, it will sanitise and dose all the water supplied to the herd (as per user requirements).
Samples taken at drinkers continually prove to be clean, with consistent levels of chlorination and bacterial control. It means any bugs that might enter a water line via a drinker from a pig’s mouth won’t contaminate the line, Mr Neat said.
Mark Gent, at Genco Water, has been instrumental in bringing Merlin technology to the pig sector. He has managed and monitored clean water processes in other food sector businesses and his knowledge, combined with the bio-chemical expertise of Brenntag, has produced a reliable, easy-to- manage water treatment system.
“Our Merlin system is a failsafe system suitable for all farm situations and it’s proving very cost effective,” he said.
Studies* from farms using Merlin to treat water with Brenntag’s Clorious2 sanitiser and Neubacid SM organic acid have demonstrated performance and health benefits. Both additives comply with health and safety regulations and are Defra and FEMAS approved. They also have a six-month shelf life and comply with Red Tractor and RSPCA assurance standards.
Two farm trials across 1,200 pigs found that administering clean, acidified water through the Merlin system for 21 days post- weaning produced notable improvements to growth. The pigs were 1.7kg heavier, with a 1.9% improvement in feed efficiency at the end of the observation period, compared with pigs in the control groups.
Other studies have shown that groups of pigs given Merlin sanitised, acidified water required less medication, achieved better performance and had less mortality in the group, which improved costs of production.
Outcomes have also been monitored with sows and litters at several stages of lactation. Results showed sows given a sanitised, acidified water supply produced heavier piglets. Average weaning weight improved by around 0.77kg per pig and the return on investment was estimated at 3:1.
Other observations with breeding sows included lower weaning-to-first-service intervals at 4.1 days, compared with 5.6 days for those which had not received the treated water. It was also noted that the body weight of these weaned sows was 13% better, which, again, was thought to benefit the re-breeding success. Almost 90% of sows supplied with clean water containing Neubacid SM were successfully served within seven days.
A 5,000-place free-range finishing site in North Norfolk has seen improvements to pig health and vitality after installing a Merlin system – which can be moved from site to site – to stabilise quality and acidify the water supplied from a borehole.
Feed consumption increased when water quality improved and stockmen said they had to refill the feeders a day sooner. The staff also noted how pigs were spending more time at the drinkers and that there were fewer scour outbreaks.
On indoor units, some alterations to infrastructure might be required before installation, but the dosing equipment is supplied free and once operational, the treatment process is managed on a pay- as-you-go basis. Each Merlin unit is costed individually in terms of the chemicals consumed and services used over a given period. Other packages are available, and producers can buy into a fully serviced and maintained system for a monthly fee.
Genco takes care of installation and logistics and will supply the hardware and replenish sanitising/treatment products as and when required. Mr Gent can remotely monitor real time flow rates, consumption, changes to line pressure, water quality and mineralisation and dosing levels. Data is collected using a secure internet link. Managers can also access data via an Overseer programme.
Wide Range of Benefits
Robin Lawson, general manager with Rattlerow Farms, said: “We carried out trials on one of our high-performing breeding units last year. The results were very encouraging. We saw subtle differences in performance, although statistically results weren’t conclusive. However, that’s not to say this system isn’t bringing other benefits to the farm business.”
The company has now invested in several Merlin water treatment systems and has plans to install more.
“Some of our farms use boreholes and water quality can be an issue. The theory behind sanitisation and acidification certainly stacks up and Genco’s chemistry works for us, and although the Merlin package is more expensive than other sanitising and dosing options, it’s proving cost effective,” he added.
The Merlin system is easy to manage, requiring only daily checks to monitor flow rates and ensure the dosing system is working correctly. “It’s the value of this convenience and the fact our employees are not required to maintain equipment and replenish additives that’s appealing. This system provides complete assurance. The drinking water is hygienic at all times and our employees don’t handle hazardous chemicals, which has been a concern in the past,” said Mr Lawson.
This turn-key, fully serviced clean water package also suits third party contract finishers who don’t want the responsibility of managing a sanitising and treatment system. Genco is happy to take on that responsibility and its services can then be built into a contract agreement and charged for accordingly.
* For trial details, click HERE.