How Good is Your Sows’ Water Source?

Getting any scale and debris out increases pipe diameter, which ultimately is the only way to increase water volume to pigs. ( Jesse McCoy, Neogen )

When you consider that pigs are over half water and over half the money in a producer’s pocket is water, making water the best it can be pays off, says Jesse McCoy, business unit supervisor for water quality at Neogen Corporation.

Water is the single largest oral input for pigs, more than double feed. Good water results in better feed conversion, fewer maintenance issues, less disease, less medication and ultimately makes you more money, McCoy says.

But, what is “good” water? He describes it being free of bacteria with a slightly acidic pH. It also has few suspended solids, few dissolved solids and few heavy metals.

During a recent SowBridge seminar on water quality hosted by the Iowa Pork Industry Center, McCoy discussed how producers can improve the quality of their animals’ water source.

Unfortunately, when it comes to water treatment, McCoy says there’s no “silver bullet.” What works for one farm may not work for another.

How do you know if you have a problem?
First step first, McCoy says, is to sample your water. 

“Don’t make changes without getting a sample first,” he says. “The performance of your animals, recommendation of your veterinarian or nutritionist, gut feeling … all these things can be how you know you ‘should’ take a look at changing your water quality and may be why you send a sample off.  But at the end of the day, that sample tells you what you should do – and maybe if.”

He advises taking two different samples. Take a raw water sample as it comes into the barn from an outside hydrant or pressure tank. If more than one source feeds the location, he recommends taking individual samples or to take one sample after the sources all combine into one central system. Next, take a sample of water at the end of the line – where the pig actually consumes the water. 

“The intent is to determine what the animals consume,” McCoy says. “So if it’s a nipple drinker, cup, or trough, take it from the actual drinker.”

When taking the sample, maintain proper sanitary procedures, he advises. Wear gloves and avoid contaminating the sampling container. Don’t open the container until samples are ready to be taken. Then fill the container to the top, fill the lid, and then invert the full lid onto the container and seal. If shipping, add a piece of tape to the lid to secure it, he adds. 

“The most important thing is to take a water sample and then send it to a third-party lab. You don’t want people providing the solutions to tell you what your problem is,” he says. 

Four ways to improve water quality
If you need to improve your pigs’ water source, McCoy says there are four things you can do: water disinfection, pH adjustment, solids control and water line disinfection.

1.    Disinfect your water supply.
Drinker systems are open, which allows pathogens to get back into the water system. This is one of the reasons why water disinfection can make a difference to pork producers’ bottom line. 

“To keep it ‘dead,’ you must run a residual such as chlorine bleach, chlorine dioxide, peroxide, iodophors or acids,” he says. “Residual disinfection reduces animal-to-animal disease transmission, wildlife-to-animal disease transmission, labor and maintenance issues like solids build-up.”

2.    Adjust pH level.
McCoy says most people do something for residual. However, most county water supplies are set up for people, not pigs. Because of this, he encourages producers to take a close look at pH adjustment too.

Adjust the pH level of your water supply to hit the target range of 6.5 to 6.8 for pigs. It all goes back to chemistry class – if the water is above the target range, you can inject an acidic chemical or CO2. If your water is below the target range, inject a basic chemical.

“Good pH levels improve palatability, feed conversion, consumption and absorption of minerals,” McCoy adds. “It also can reduce disease incidence.”

Build up
Animals eat based on how much they can drink, so putting more feed into pigs – especially at the end of a turn, or when they’re full-size sows – is directly dependent on how much water you can get to them. To increase pipe diameter to increase water volume to pigs, remove solids and debris. 

3.    Address problems with solids.
Have you ever heard someone say they can smell the sulfur in water? McCoy says this is a misnomer.

“That rotten egg smell is a sign that you have a biological problem and it’s time to disinfect with an oxidant,” he says. “What you are smelling is bacteria converting the sulfur into a gas.”

Solids filtration is all about contact time and surface area, McCoy says. The more contact time, the more time to coagulate. The more surface area, the greater the holding capacity.

Removing dissolved or suspended solids keeps the drinker system functioning properly and prevents potential nutritional impacts on the animals. 

Getting any scale and debris out increases pipe diameter, which ultimately is the only way to increase water volume to pigs. 

“Since animals eat based on how much they can drink, putting more feed into pigs – especially at the end of a turn, or when they’re full-size sows – is directly dependent on how much water you can get to them,” he says. “If they can’t drink, they don’t eat. If they can’t get the volume of water in them, then they won’t lactate at their genetic potential. If they can’t lactate, then the piglets suffer. It’s all a spiral that can be tied back to lack of water volume.”

4.    Disinfect water lines.
“Cleaning your water lines is important because the first drink that animal gets is from a fermenter,” McCoy says. McCoy believes every swine producer should be disinfecting their water lines routinely to remove bioslime and disinfect any places pathogens could hide. 

“We don’t question the viability of cleaning and disinfecting the whole farrowing room, nursery or finishing room before placement of new animals, mainly because we can see it and we have a ton of data about why it’s important,” he says. “The inside of that drinker line is just another surface we need to get ready for pigs, but we can’t see it and we forget it.”

Disinfecting water lines kills anything on the surface of the water supply pipe. McCoy says he often hears people say “it’ll clog my drinkers” when it comes to discussing chemical selection to keep water lines disinfected. “If you’re worried about clogging drinkers, you know you have a problem,” he says.

Choosing the right chemical is crucial, he says. He recommends peracetic acid, silver stabilized peroxide or PerQuat as those chemistries are the only products with data to show their efficacy at cleaning and disinfecting the inside of the lines. Dilution as a rule 3%, which is not achievable with a standard 1:128 medicator.  

“With the right chemistry, you can disinfect the lines and not clog all your drinkers, which helps with getting it done,” McCoy said.


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