Ensuring Proper Water Supply on Your Pig Farm

Having a constant supply of water is a necessity for pig farming and in many countries it is a legal requirement. This guide from BPEX 2TS explains how to set up drinkers on your farm, how much water should be available to pigs and the quality of the water.
calendar icon 19 May 2015
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Water is essential for nearly all body functions including temperature regulation, absorption of nutrients, waste excretion and tissue growth.

Over 80% of the body of a newborn piglet consists of water, compared to about 55% in a finisher.

Severe water deprivation may result in death; even minor dehydration can result in reduced feed intake, lower daily gain, poorer feed conversion, reduced milk production and lower weaning weights.

When performance problems are being investigated feed is often analysed, but the water supply is frequently overlooked.

In the UK it is a legal requirement that all pigs have ready access to good quality, clean water. The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, and the Code of Recommendations for Livestock: Pigs state that “All pigs over two weeks of age must have continuous access to a sufficient quantity of fresh drinking water”.

Water Availability

  • Ensure sufficient access to watering points (Table 1)
  • It is advisable to have more than one drinker per pen; this will act as a back up in the event of a drinker becoming blocked or broken

  • Check that all drinkers are clean and working on a daily basis

  • Check flow rates of every nipple and bite drinker between batches. This is a simple task requiring a large measuring jug, a watch and a minute of your time

Operate the drinker for 30 seconds and note the volume of water collected. Double this to give the flow rate in litres/minute (refer to Table 2).

  • When testing flow rates check the difference between those nearest to and furthest from the supply, as the variation between drinkers may surprise you. A significant difference between the first and last drinkers could indicate a blockage or problem with the water pressure

  • Water pressure can be affected by factors such as: the diameter of the washer orifice within the drinker; cleanliness of the filter; pipe diameter; deposits within the pipe line; and header tank height

  • Drinkers must be at the correct height for the size of pigs (Table 3). In grower pens/yards it is important to ensure drinkers are accessible to both the smallest and largest pigs on both entry and exit

  • The drinkers should be positioned to allow easy access and ideally should be within 1–2 m from the feeders

  • Easy and prompt access to water is essential to prevent dehydration. For the first few days after weaning consider additional “communal” drinker points, eg turkey drinkers

  • Wet-fed pigs require a separate source of clean drinking water

  • Ensure that wastage is minimal and repair any leaking pipes or drinkers promptly. Remember, leaking drinkers will add to slurry volume and are expensive

  • Monitoring water supply to a building can establish basic usage patterns, which can then be used to monitor changes
    in drinking behaviour, eg as a result of a blockage, leak, change of feed or environmental temperature or disease
    outbreak.Trials have shown that in the event of a disease outbreak a change in water consumption will often be apparent before clinical signs are.

Water quality

The water offered to pigs should be fit for human consumption and hygiene is a critical factor.

  • Bowl drinkers and troughs should be checked on a daily basis and cleaned as necessary

  • Header tanks should be completely covered with intact, secure lids, to prevent contamination

  • The complete water line, including drinkers, pipe work and header tanks should be regularly cleaned and flushed through, ie between batches. Check flow rates after flushing

  • Routinely (eg between every batch) check if pipe work is clean by taking off a drinker and feeling for residue within the pipe

  • Microbiological, physical and chemical factors can all affect water quality. If there is any doubt concerning quality samples should be sent for analysis

  • Test water supplied from boreholes annually

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June 2015

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