Water – an essential part of pig production

Water Pigs TD Farm
NUTRIENTS: Pigs need water to regulate body temperature, transport nutrients around the body and remove waste/toxins.

WATER is something we all take for granted. As the saying goes the only time we miss it is ‘when the well runs dry’ or the mains supply is turned off.

As well as taking water for granted we often underestimate the vital role it plays in pig production. Pigs need water to regulate body temperature, transport nutrients around the body and remove waste/toxins from the body.

If pigs don’t get enough water they become dehydrated and severe salt poisoning can even occur. But even minor dehydration can create problems, causing pigs to eat less, grow slower, use feed less efficiently and produce less milk.

Providing adequate water is essential for the health, welfare and production efficiency of all stages of pigs.

Water quality:

Providing pigs adequate water is only part of the story. Water quality is also important, and like supply, is often taken for granted. Although the water may be clean at source, contamination can take place as it flows through storage or header tanks and supply pipes.

A recent analysis of two samples of water showed that the sample taken at source was clean, whereas the sample from a nipple drinker in a grower pen contained high levels of bacteria. This was because the water was stored in a header tank which hadn’t been cleaned out for several years!

How do you determine the quality of water? Quality is determined by checking:

n Physical appearance – smell, cloudiness;

n Chemical/mineral levels –calcium, magnesium, sulphur, iron, manganese

n Micro-organism levels –bacteria, yeasts, moulds.

Although physical appearance and chemical/mineral contamin-ation are very important, for example high levels of iron can cause scour, this article will focus on bacteriological contamination.

Testing water quality

Several tests are available for determining the quality of water. Total Viable Count (TVC) is the basic test and provides a general indication of overall quality. It gives a reading for all micro-organisms present at 37ºC (body temperature) and 22ºC (ambient temperature). TVC provides a picture of quality over time and for example if a sample shows a spike in levels this may indicate a problem. Regular monitoring of TVCs is therefore important. As the TVC test does not provide any information on, for example type of bacteria, it is important to also test the water for total Coliforms, E Coli, Enterococci and Clostridia as the presence of these bacteria indicates faecal contamination.

Water quality standards:

Drinking water for farm animals must be ‘clean’. The definition for ‘clean’ water is: ‘it does not contain micro-organisms or harmful substances in quantities capable of directly or indirectly affecting the health quality of food’. Although actual figures are not provided for acceptable levels of micro-organisms in ‘clean’ water the Drinking Water Inspectorate sets standards for water for human consumption.

These standards state that there must not be any Coliforms, E Coli, Clostridium perfringens or Enterococci bacteria present in drinking water.

Red Tractor requires the annual testing of non-mains water for TVCs and Coliforms.

To meet Red Tractor standards TVC and Coliform levels for a sample taken at source must be less than 1,000 colony forming units (cfu) per ml and less than 100 cfu per 100 ml respectively.

The quality of water on some pig farms is an issue. CAFRE, through Business Development Groups, is involved in sampling water for members. To date almost 60 samples have been analysed, and although many are satisfactory some samples have shown high levels of Coliforms and E Coli. On some farms levels of Coliforms and E Coli over 2,419 have been detected.

The main message to take from this article is not to assume the water your pigs and perhaps yourself and employees are drinking is clean. Regularly check the quality of water by sending samples to an accredited lab for analysis. If bacterial levels are high talk to your vet or adviser about options available for cleaning water and water systems.


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