Eye-opening study shows untreated water linked to higher prolapse rates.
Water is the single most important nutrient your pigs consume, so it’s alarming to discover that relatively little research has been undertaken on water quality. That situation is changing, however, based on the results of an industry survey.
Chris Rademacher, DVM, clinical professor, Iowa State University swine extension veterinarian and associate director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center, was involved through a grant with the National Pork Board and granted to the Iowa Pork Industry Center, to study the issue of the increase of sow prolapses over the last 5 to 10 years. The U.S. industry was experiencing a linear increase in sow mortality, and sow prolapses were increasing at a comparable rate.
400,000 sows can’t be wrong
“We recruited 104 farms that represented about 400,000 sows from across the industry,” Rademacher says. Farm size varied from large integrators to small independent operators. The prolapse rates ranged from high to low in order to create variation, he explains. A questionnaire essentially asked farm operators how they handled feeding programs; how they monitored, assisted and induced farrowing; what kind of facilities they used; the size of facilities; and whether they were independent or integrated.
Researchers also added questions about water.
“We’d heard from producers who would say they had two farms that were alike in every way except water, so we asked questions about water as part of the survey. We didn’t walk into it thinking there was even a hypothesis that water quality would have anything to do with the prolapse increase,” Rademacher says.
The results of the survey told a different story: When responses were put into a statistical model, water quality proved to have a big impact on prolapse rates.
“Farms that were not doing any sort of water treatment were twice as high in their prolapse rate as farms that were doing some type of treatment, Rademacher explains. “It was totally unexpected.”
More research justified
With the strong correlation, Rademacher is doing additional research on water with a $2 million survivability grant, intended to study all forms of mortality in the industry. That award will allow for additional research on the factors found to be significantly important in terms of prolapse differences.
Rademacher hopes to do some more prospective research, in which some water lines on a farm would be treated and other lines left untreated, to see if prolapse rate is directly influenced by water treatment.
“From the retrospective analysis, there was a strong correlation,” he ways. “Now we want to be able to confirm with prospective-type research studies that there is a benefit [to water treatment] and try to quantify it.”
Put water quality at the forefront
The U.S. pork industry is in the early discovery phase on the impact of water quality, Rademacher says.
“As we’re able to develop better measuring methods and devices we’ll be able to look at the real impact of water quality,” he says. “It’s still a foreign concept for most producers.”
Water quality can be complicated, he explains, because excess minerals may be present in the water. Sometimes minerals can be filtered out. Sometimes additives can be put into the water, particularly if a well is contaminated with E. coli, for example.
Rademacher says researchers are also learning more about the production of biofilms on the inside of drinking water lines. Biofilms can come from initial water quality, from antibiotic use through the water, and/or from failure to properly clean water lines.
“We clean the barns but we don’t clean the water lines with any frequency, unless the producer is having issues with the water lines clogging, particularly in older facilities,” Rademacher says. “There are just a lot of variables for us to understand and learn how to attack.”
Take these steps
Whether you think you have a water problem or not, producers should first get a good water quality test, Rademacher recommends. A number of respected labs offer water tests at a nominal charge. They will send a kit with instructions on how to collect good water samples.
Secondly, work with your veterinarian and an expert in water quality. Companies, universities and veterinary clinics often have experts who can help find solutions based on a specific situation.
“It’s important to understand what you have and then reach out to work with experts on the best way to mitigate some of the potential challenges with water quality,” Rademacher says.
(Photo courtesy of National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff. Des Moines, IA USA)