Water: Are your pigs getting enough?

By John Carr, thePigSite.com Consultant - While research is attempting to quantify the water requirements of swine in terms of daily intake, drinking device, water flow rate and water pressure, the least a producer should do is follow manufacture's recommendations regarding the sitting and use of the drinking device.
calendar icon 30 December 2000
clock icon 6 minute read
All stockpersons know water is obviously essential for survival but it is disappointing to find pigs provided with limited flowing polluted water from the wrong type of drinker, which is at the incorrect height. We have to imagine how we would cope with the water system we provide.

The following details areas you need to check to ensure your water supplies are adequate.

Water source

The water quality should be of a standard suitable for human consumption. There should be few suspended solids as these are a major source of blockages. Dissolved solids and high mineral content can affect the palatability of the water and can form deposits reducing flow.

The water pressure in the down pipe should be suitable for the type of drinker and should be fitted with a non-return valve. Have you ever checked your farm's water pressure?


The farm should have a tank capable of holding 24 hours water supply. This and other water tanks must be fitted with a lid to cut down the light to control algae growth and stops contamination with rodent urine and farm debris, such as straw. Ensure the tank is able to refill quickly during the day, even when the farm is powerwashing.

The farm should have adequate provisions to cope with adverse weather conditions, especially in the winter when water delivery systems freeze up. What systems are available to transport water to the pigs if the need arises?

Drinking device

How many drinkers are present in each pen, how large are the pens and how many animals are normal housed in each one? There should be a minimum of 2 drinkers per pen and at least 1 drinker per 10 animals.

The type of drinker should be suitable for the age of the pig and provide water at a suitable flow rate at a low pressure for the age of the pig using the drinker. Measure the flow rate of water per minute from the drinker and the pressure of water provided. The provision of lots of water at a high pressure, as commonly found when the pressure/flow regulator is removed because of persistent blockage, will still result in water restriction. The answer is to install a water filter.

The provision of fresh clean water is essential if troughs or bowls are used they must be cleaned out regularly. I have seen floating stools of faeces in water troughs that have remained for several days before the stockperson deems it necessary to clean the water trough.

The drinker should be examined in detail to reveal evidence of abnormal wear .Are the drinkers inaccessible to the pigs due to breakages?

The height and angle of the drinker should be checked to ensure they are as recommended by the manufacturer. If the pen is designed for pigs over a wide growth range, then either the height of the drinker should be adaptable or a range of drinkers made available. It is not sufficient to provide steps to enable pigs to reach the drinker unless a bowl drinker is used and the step is intended to limit faecal pollution of the bowl.

The behavior of the pig at the drinker is a useful indicator of the adequacies of the water supply. Watching pigs drink may reveal some of the problems they have with the drinker. The depth of water in the trough is important. I have seen sows licking the trough for hours trying to obtain sufficient water.

In outdoor systems the water trough may also be used as a wallow and fill up with soil, therefore, reducing the water depth. Ideally there should be a separate water supply and mud wallow.

Surrounding environment

Where are the drinkers placed in the pen? By standing at an angle to the drinker, big sows are able to monopolize more than one drinker if they are positioned too close together. Drinkers are often placed in a corner next to feeders, again limiting the availability of water. Water restriction may occur if the drinker is placed in an area where the floor is slippery.

How many watering devices are leaking? Wasted water means more manure and a serious loss of profit.

In areas where the grounding may be difficult, for instance farms on very sandy soil, it is always worth checking for stray voltage.

Management of water supply

Changing the feeding regime from single to twice daily feeding will encourage the sow to rise, urinate and drink in the afternoon. Many confirmed sows fed once daily will not drink in the afternoon even though water is available in front of them. If twice daily feeding cannot be practiced, for instance on farms manually feeding, consider other methods to encourage sows to rise in the afternoon. One solution is to walk a boar around the gestation and service barn and heat check in the afternoon as well as the morning and ensure all sows rise.

Are all the hogs given free access to water, even in wet feed systems? Check that the nursing piglet has access to water. Are there times during the day when the water supply is cut off? Are you sure you provide water at times when the pigs require a drink?

Every watering device should be checked daily and cleaned out thoroughly 2 to 3 times year. It is surprising how many stockpersons never check that there is water coming out of each drinker daily, and many farms have never cleaned the water systems since it was installed. Building designers should consider the necessity to easily check the water supply daily from the passageway.

It is essential that water availability is taken more seriously by the swine industry and that research is undertaken to define the water requirements of pigs of all ages. Drinking supplies manufacturers must provide details on the correct setting and use of all their drinking systems.
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