Would You Drink the Water in Your Pig Barn?

Grow/Finish : Grow Finish Production

Young Animal : Management

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Purina Animal Nutrition

Water is the most-consumed nutrient, by volume, in a pig’s diet, but it can often get the least attention.

Unfortunately, issues relating to pig drinking water can have significant, usually negative, effects on pig performance.
To help determine if drinking water quality is good enough for your pigs, ask yourself if you would drink the water in your pig barn. If you can’t say you would, then maybe drinking water quality could use more attention on your operation.
Two common factors in water quality are minerals and microbes. Both can impact the amount of water your pigs drink by restricting the flow inside pipes or simply by making water smell or taste bad. Water intake is directly correlated to feed intake, so keeping your water supply clean and functioning is the foundation of a successful nutrition program.  
Groundwater naturally contains minerals. Some minerals, including iron, can support growth of bacteria, algae or fungi in your water. Other minerals such as sodium and chloride can cause diarrhea in pigs, and zinc can affect the taste of water.
Mineral build-up can also damage equipment or reduce water flow in the pipes in your pig watering systems. Its surfaces can harbor bacteria, giving them a place to hide and thrive.
Some minerals, such as calcium carbonate (limestone), can be dissolved with acidic cleaners. Acidifiers are not all-purpose cleaners, however. The low pH they cause could encourage the growth of some microbes.1
Living materials
Like minerals, microbes are commonly found in groundwater. Many are harmless, although some are signs of contamination and could cause health problems.
Microbes require few nutrients to grow, and they thrive on the kinds of supplements typically used in pork production such as electrolytes, vitamins and organic acids. Even microbes that are harmless to pigs can contribute to biofilm, a mass of living and dead organic material that can build up inside pipes.
Like mineral buildup, biofilms can restrict water flow inside pipes and can harbor disease agents such as E. coli. Once established, biofilms are hard to remove. An established biofilm can repopulate in as few as three days after removal.1 They can cause health challenges from one production cycle to the next. 
Water quality standards for pigs
The effects of water quality issues often mirror symptoms of pathogenic disease. An excess of some microbes or minerals can reduce water intake, cause diarrhea or impair performance. Regular testing of your water system and its contents can arm you with information when troubleshooting a health issue. 
  • Physical quality observations: Note the color, odor, flavor and clarity of the water. Water that looks cloudy, frothy, has a color or an odd taste or smell should be tested.2
  • Standard pH level: An acceptable range is between 6.5 and 8.5. Levels higher or lower could affect water treatment function or cause corrosion of the water system.2
  • Chloride level: Levels higher than 500 ppm can cause a brackish taste that could deter pigs from drinking.2
  • Microbes in water: High numbers of microbes can indicate contamination from an outside source. Ideally, water samples should contain fewer than 100 total bacteria and fewer than 50 coliform bacteria per milliliter sample.2
  • Iron ppm in water: At 2-3 ppm, iron can promote bacterial growth or contribute to mineral deposits inside pipes. At 5 ppm, iron can inactivate certain drugs including the antibiotic oxytetracycline. At 10 ppm or greater, it can inhibit water intake.2
  • Sulfate in drinking water: Sulfates can act as laxative agents at levels of greater than 7,000 ppm.2 
Water is the foundation of a good nutrition program. Its quality and value should be made as much of a priority as the quality and value of the feed you choose.
Research from the Purina Animal Nutrition Center has shown that performance has exponential impacts as pigs grow. The same is true for lags in performance, which can have exponential negative impacts on future development. Don’t let poor water quality be a reason your pigs experience a lag in feed intake and performance.
Accurate identification, troubleshooting and response to pig drinking water issues are paramount to good animal husbandry and pig performance. Make these tasks a priority on your operation and expect to see positive results.  
Are you looking for products to support hydration for pigs in all growth stages? Take a look at Purina® UltraCare® Gel and Swine Electrolyte.
1Foy, Mary Catherine, 2015, Water Quality on the Farm, published June 2016
2Van Heugten, 2000, Guidelines for Water Quality in Pigs, NCSU Ext Pub ANS00-811S