Water, the forgotten nutrient

UK - Part of the problem with water and pigs is that they don't seem to miss what they can't have; they just grow more slowly, says environment specialist Nick Bird of Farmex.
calendar icon 9 May 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
His comments are in response to two reports on studies by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

The investigations found that water quality on Scottish pig units can be highly variable. And findings indicate that around a fifth of buildings may have a problem with low flow rates.

The QMS research measured flow rates at six points on a number of pig units. Water samples were also analysed to check for coliform and E-coli concentrations.

Most flow rates were excellent, but low delivery rates were found in 11 out of 47 buildings. Five of these were wet-fed systems.

Mr Bird says that measuring the flow rate of one drinker at a time may give producers a deceptive impression. "In practice, a number of pigs will be trying to drink at the same time. You should really look at the combined flow rate when you're measuring water delivery," he advises.

And correct flow rates are also very important in wet-feeding systems - something that many producers don't appreciate.

"According to our real-time water monitoring data, total daily water intake of wet fed pigs may be less than their dry fed counterparts. However, peak rates of intake are not necessarily any lower," said Mr Bird.

Water quality – a good investment

The QMS investigations also demonstrated high variability in water quality. Where it was good, farms tended to have active policies for water management, such as routine hygiene and/or water treatment. These units were more likely to occasionally or routinely check drinkers and filters; have good lids on header tanks; occasionally or routinely clean the water system.

QMS points out that the equipment and resources needed to improve and manage water quality are not excessive, although some investment is required in most cases.

For instance, pipe work that is contaminated with scale and organic matter, and header tanks that cannot be cleaned for any reason, need to be replaced.

Where flow rates are low, cleaning the filters located behind the nipples can increase flows by 30-150%. And, where header tanks and pipe lines have been cleaned to remove traces of organic debris, followed by disinfection, then water quality at the drinkers will invariably be better with a reduced risk of bacterial contamination.

Clean water will help to support pig health and maintain good productivity, Quality Meat Scotland and Mr Bird agrees.

Producers need to acknowledge that anything which reduces water intake from optimum levels has the potential to reduce food intake and therefore influence feed conversion ratio and growth rates.

A more in depth review of the studies can be found on pages 9-10 of the QMS R&D 2006 Report, Part 2. which can be downloaded here (PDF).
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