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The importance of water for pigs

15 June 2016

Water is a key ingredient for every organism; thus, also for pigs. Water is in fact the most important nutrient consumed by the pig during its lifetime. Pigs require water for various reasons. Water controls metabolic functions, adjusts body temperature, transports nutrients to body tissues, removes metabolic waste, promotes the production of milk and, of course, contributes to growth and production. It is therefore no surprise that readily available clean fresh water is essential for the health and welfare of pigs.

Pigs consume most of their water by drinking. A newborn piglet consists of approximately 80% water, and a market pig consists of approximately 50% water. In fact, a pig can lose almost all its fat and half its protein and still live; however, when it loses one-tenth of its water, it will die. This illustrates the great importance of water for each and every pig. A good balance between water and feed intake is therefore essential. Feed intake and growth performance are strongly correlated with water intake. Any factor which compromises or lowers water intake will result in reduced pig performance.

Health status
When a pig is sick, this is reflected in its water intake. Water consumption is therefore a clear indicator of the health status of a pig. For example, if house data shows several consecutive days of reduced water intake or a 30% decrease in water consumption in one day, this is a good indication of a potential health issue. Reduced water intake will decrease the feed intake as well as decrease pig performance and milk production.

Some producers use restricted feed or water intake, which can influence the pig’s health. Restricted food intake, for example, is usually accompanied by an increased water intake as the animal attempts to gain abdominal fullness. An increased water intake can be difficult to achieve, when the house has a great number of pigs or when the water supply is intentionally restricted in the water delivery system. This illustrates the importance of proper management.

Flow, pressure and availability of water
Pigs have a pattern of drinking throughout the day. It is important to make sure that there are enough drinking nipples and watering devices available for peak times of water consumption to ensure that all pigs can drink as much as desired during these busy times. It is also critical to check each nipple regularly for proper functioning. In addition, regular testing of the water aids in preventing diseases and health issues.

Producers must adjust the drinking system to the needs of the pigs in their own individual farms. This can be accomplished in several ways; however the priority is to provide sufficient water for all animals in each pen. Making sure the drinking nipple has the correct water flow rate aids preventing water spillage or depriving the pigs from water. As a too high or too low water flow and/or pressure will decrease water intake, all waterers require the proper flow rate.

A nursery piglet or weaner requires a nipple flow rate between 0.4 and 0.6 liter per minute. A finisher, boar or sow needs a nipple flow rate between 0.8 and 1 liter per minute. A farrowing sow needs up to 2.7 liters per minute. With the specially designed Eco-regulator orifice, which can be mounted on the pig nipple drinker, the desired flow rates can easily be achieved. Pigs benefit from having easy access to water from a drinker, which provides a flow rate that is neither too high nor too low as this will discourage the pig from drinking. In addition, the correct flow rate reduces water as well as medicine wastage, which is cost efficient.

Proper height
Another important factor in the water intake is the proper height of the nipple drinker to maximize water intake. If the nipple height is too low, the pig will drink water but not all it wants or needs as this requires too much effort. This therefore influences feed intake and reduces performance. Ideally, the drinker should be just above the backline for access by all the pigs. For correct mounting and positioning of the nipple, refer to our previous article on management of nipple drinkers for pigs.

“Lazy” pigs
Water is also essential for cooling. High ambient temperatures increase the water requirements as a pig can quickly become overheated. Increased water consumption with an increased urinary water loss is an effective mechanism by which a pig can lose body heat. When the ambient temperature increases from 12?C (53?F) to 35?C (95?F), water intake will increase by 50%. Studies have shown that pigs consume almost double the quantity of cool water (10?C) (50?F) than that of warm water (25?C) (77?F).

Pigs tend to show laziness in high temperatures. During warm days producers should encourage these “lazy” sows to stand up and drink by placing the nipple drinker at the correct height and providing clean and cool water.

Water is a critical nutrient that is quite often overlooked. This has a significant impact on every phase of pork production. It is essential that drinking water be provided in the proper amount, have the optimal temperature and be easily accessible to the pig. In doing so, pig producers will maximize pig production and profit.