Scientists Study Pigs on the Water Wagon

DENMARK - Do outdoor pigs drink during the night? This is what scientists at Aarhus University are investigating in connection with the requirement that pigs should have access to frost-free water around the clock. A special water wagon has been developed for the purpose.
calendar icon 18 November 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Do free-range sows take a turn in the dark to get a drink of water at night? Or do they make do with drinking during the day? The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries has asked scientists from Aarhus University to answer this question for them.

Scientists from Aarhus University are studying the drinking behaviour of free-range sows with the help of a newly developed water wagon. [Photo: Janne Hansen]

The current legislation on livestock management specifies that water must be made available to the livestock at all times. This may, however, present problems of a practical kind to the producers of free-range pigs during the winter, as it may be difficult to keep the water clear of ice during the night. Scientists have therefore started an investigation into the drinking habits of lactating sows on a commercial farm with outdoor pigs. The scientists will monitor the drinking habits of the lactating sows day and night over the winter half-year.

The task presented by the Ministry is a challenge to the scientists and technicians at Aarhus University. How do you construct a frost-free water supply which can remain outside in all kinds of weather, which is mobile and which can register the many different bits of information that the scientists need? The solution to this was an insulated and heated portable cabin adapted to the task.

Drinking cups are attached to the outside of the cabin – which scientists have dubbed Mobs (Mobile Observation). The water is kept frost-free, partly by installing a heating element in the water pipes and partly by storing the water container inside the heated cabin. As the water supply is from a water container, no digging of pipes into the soil has been necessary.

The water cabin also has electricity installed. The heated and insulated cabin can house various computer equipment and other material that needs protection from the weather and provides an environment where the scientist can work in comfort. As the cabin has windows, the scientist can use these to observe the sows without disturbing them.

For the surveillance of the sows, eight video cameras have been installed on the cabin and on the pig huts. If the computers register any water consumption during the night, the cameras will be able to verify that this was a sow having a drink and not, for example, one of the dogs that the farmer keeps in the fold to frighten away the foxes. The cameras are mounted with magnets so they are easy to move around as required.

The water wagon also has a weather station. The weather may affect the behaviour of the sows. Will they venture out in snow? Do they snuggle up inside the huts when it is wet and windy? Does the temperature affect their inclination to go outside? These are some of the questions that may also be answered with Mobs, which in future may also be used for other forms of outdoor experiments.

The experiment is financed by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.

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