- news, features, articles and disease information for the swine industry

ThePigSite Pig Health


(632) The ready availability of clean fresh water is essential. Insufficient attention is given to this on many farms.

It is useful to consider the role that water plays in the normal metabolic functions of the pig.

  • It helps to maintain and control body temperature, through both the intake and during exhalation when the heat is dissipated from the pig. It is lost in three ways, either by respiration, in the urine or in the faeces.
  • An imbalance between water intake and loss results in dehydration and increased concentration of urine. Clinical signs include very dry dung, hollow eyes and a dehydrated skin.
  • It is responsible for transporting food and waste products throughout the body. Waste products are eliminated via water through the kidneys.
  • Hormones are transported around the body through the blood stream.
  • Water regulates the acid alkali balance in the body through the controls exerted by the kidney.
  • Water is used in protein synthesis. The digestive process will not function without it. Any restriction of water therefore will affect the above vital functions.
The piglet

Within 6 hours of birth water should be made available in a shallow dish or a trough because fluid intake is so vital at an early age. An efficient dish used for both creep and water in the farrowing pen is shown in Fig.14-17. It is interesting to note how many piglets within 24 hours will drink small amounts of water when given the opportunity. Nipple drinkers are not a very attractive method of presenting the water to the piglet. Water consumption of piglets during lactation is also influenced by the farrowing house temperature and at 28ºC (82ºF) in a warm creep area water requirements will increase dramatically.

The provision of water to the piglet in the first week causes no harm and is more likely of benefit. For pigs from one to three weeks of age clean water is best presented in an open type drinker rather than a nipple drinker. The water in dishes and drinkers must be clean and fresh.

The weaned pig

The pig experiences dramatic changes at weaning by the sudden move from a liquid to a solid diet. The conditioned reflex, calling the pigs to suckle regularly is also lost. Dehydration associated with poor water intake and marked villus atrophy is a common occurrence within the first 7 days of weaning. Ensure the flow rate is at least 0.6 litres per minute from nipple drinkers. It is advisable to offer water in small open drinkers or water bowls daily for the first 5 to 7 days post-weaning. The loss of milk at weaning time and villus atrophy reduce the availability of liquid to the pig for the first 48 hours.

The sow

The changes in water intake from pregnancy to lactation are considerable. Sows that have a lower water intake during lactation generally rear poorer litters and it is important therefore to encourage the sow to drink the moment she enters the farrowing quarters. This is best carried out by giving 4.5 litres of water twice daily into the feed trough until 2-3 days post farrowing. The water flow through a nipple drinker for the lactating sow should approximate 1.5 to 2 litres per minute. Water intake in the dry sow varies from 9-18 litres per day and in lactation from 18 to 36 litres.

Water quality

The variables in water quality include organisms, the physical characteristics and the mineral content. Water can become contaminated with pathogenic and non pathogenic bacteria and viruses. The presence of coliform bacteria (i.e. E. coli and related bacteria) is an indication of faecal contamination and a potential source of disease.

The chemical quality of water can be assessed by determining the total dissolved solids, the pH (the alkalinity or the acidity), the iron content and the presence of nitrates or nitrites. Further testing would include levels of sulphates, magnesium, chloride, potassium, calcium, sodium and manganese. The total solids in water represent the amount of matter that is actually dissolved. If this level is less than 1000ppm it is of no significance but once it reaches over 6000ppm it becomes unfit for pigs. Generally if the total solid content is low it is usually of good quality and the water is safe to drink.

The pH level of wholesome water varies between 6.5 and 8. Hardness of water is dependent on the levels of calcium and magnesium present but these have no effect on animal health. Hardness does however result in the accumulation of scale causing pipes to gradually block and the flow rate drops unnoticed. This is a common problem on farms that have metal pipes of at least four years standing.

Iron can cause problems in water, with brown coloured staining. Certain types of bacteria can grow and cause blockage of pipes.

High levels of nitrates and nitrites can interfere with the use of vitamin A by the pig and they may be responsible for high still-birth rates.

A summary of the effects of high nutrient levels in water

Sodium and chloride

  • If this is above 250-500ppm then a brackish taste may develop.
  • High levels of sodium chloride (salt) affect palatability and can adversely affect pig productivity and performance.
  • Sodium sulphate is a laxative and mildly irritant.
Calcium and magnesium
  • There are no effects on animal health unless their are high levels of the sulphates which result in the accumulation of scale (as Mg(OH)2 and CaCO3) and over a period of time the diameter of pipes is reduced with the poor flow rates.
Iron and copper
  • High levels of copper have a catalytic effect on the oxidation of iron and if the iron levels are high precipitation of iron occurs when water is pumped, resulting in problems with the delivery system.
  • Iron also supports the growth of certain types of bacteria causing foul odours and blocked water systems.
  • High levels of sulphate in association with magnesium and sodium can cause diarrhoea.
  • High levels promote oxidation leading to a reddish tinge in the water.
Nitrates / nitrites
  • Nitrites can change the structure of the haemoglobin in blood rendering it incapable of transporting oxygen. If levels are high the blood is a dark colour due to lowered levels of oxygen.
  • Extremely high levels of nitrates / nitrites in water, impair the utilisation of vitamin A in pigs and a reduction in performance - such levels however are very rarely found under practical conditions but levels can be sufficiently high to increase stillbirths.

Share This

Managing Pig Health - 5m Books

Pig Identification - 5m FarmSupplies

Our Sponsors


Seasonal Picks

Animal Welfare Science, Husbandry and Ethics: The Evolving Story of Our Relationship with Farm Animals - 5m Books