Water: The unseen driver of pig performance

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — Although water consumption is an important indicator of a swine herd’s performance and health, water may be the most overlooked nutrient for a pig, according to Bob Thaler, SDSU Extension Swine Specialist.

“When thinking about the pig’s nutrient requirements, it is easy to focus on common things like amino acids, metabolizable energy, vitamins, and minerals. However, water is the nutrient that the pig consumes the most of during its life. It is probably the most mismanaged and unfortunately, it is also the nutrient that has the least amount of research done on it,” Thaler said.

What little research has been done is confounded, Thaler said by the different types of watering devices used.

“Feed intake, and subsequently, growth performance are strongly correlated with water intake so anything that decreases or inhibits water intake will result in reduced pig performance,” he said.

How much water does a pig need for normal growth? Daily water requirements depend on phase of production, and recommendations are as follows:

Newly weaned pigs — .5 gallons/pig/day

Grow-finish pigs —1.5 gallons/pig/day

Gestating sows & boars — 4 gallons/pig/day

Lactating sows — 6 gallons/pig/day

Thaler said it is very important to realize that these numbers represent how much water a pig needs to drink. They do not include the amount of water needed for cleaning, cooling, etc which can account for approximately 28 percent of the water used in a facility.

Time of day & Water consumption

Research shows that pigs have a pattern in which they drink water throughout the day. When using nipple waterers, finishing pigs and gestating sows drink the most water between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. and have a smaller peak between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m.. Nursery pigs consume the most water between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., and lactating sows consume water throughout the whole day since they are producing milk throughout the day as well.

“What makes this information important is hog producers need to have enough watering devices available at those peak times of water consumption so all pigs can drink all they want during those high-demand times,” Thaler said.

It is recommended to have two functional nipple waterers if there are greater than 10 nursery pigs in the pen, and greater than 15 finishing pigs in a pen. Nipples can become plugged with rust, sediment, minerals, etc through time so Thaler said it is critical to check each nipple daily to make sure it is working properly.

Nipple waterers must also be placed at the proper height to maximize water intake. A general rule of thumb is to have nipple height adjusted to be equal in height to the pig’s shoulder.

“If the waterer is too low, the pig will still work to drink water, but it won’t drink all it wants, so feed intake and performance will suffer. This is especially important for lactating sows,” he said.

Another critical factor to adequate water consumption that Thaler points out is the water flow rate as it leaves the waterer.

“Too little or too much water flow/pressure will decrease water intake so it is essential to adjust all waterers to provide the proper flow rate,” he said.

Recommendations for flow rates are: for nursery pigs to be 250-500milliliter per minute or 1 to 2 cups per minute; for grow-finish hogs to be about 500-1000 milliliter per minute or 2 to 4 cups per minute; and for breeding animals flow needs to be 1000 milliliter per minute or 4 cups per minute.

“Water consumption not only affects growth performance, but it is also can be an indicator of health status,” Thaler said.

For example, if a barn is showing three consecutive days of decreased water intake or a 30 percent decrease in water consumption in one day, that is a good sign of a potential health issue occurring in the barns, and Thaler said barn personnel need to manage accordingly.

“Water is a critical nutrient that is often overlooked, and it has a dramatic impact on every phase of pork production. It needs to be provided in the proper amount and pressure, and in a way easily accessible to the pig,” Thaler said.

By paying as much attention to water and water delivery devices as they do to feed and feeder, pork producers can help maintain a high level of performance of their animals.

For more information, contact Bob Thaler, SDSU Extension Swine Specialist (605)688-5435, or Ashley Gelderman, SDSU Extension Swine Field Specialist, (605)782-3290.

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