Water Quality Can Be a Challenge

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Water. You need it. Your pigs need it. But what if the groundwater in your area is high in minerals or other substances that make it substandard? Steven Stone, DVM, with the Fairmont Veterinary Clinic in Fairmont, Minn., deals with water issues on a regular basis.

“The water here in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa is high in iron and manganese – it’s very hard – and those minerals will settle in the pipes in the barn,” he says. When that happens, bacteria can grow and create health problems.

Water softener companies do a very good business in Stone’s area, he notes wryly. “You’ll have a brand-new barn and the water pipes will be clear, but they’ll turn orange or black in weeks,” he says. “Iron is the biggest problem, because once it’s in your water lines, it coats the lines and attracts bacteria. It’s especially a problem in the nursery, where temperatures are warmer and flow rates are less. You can see massive bacterial growth in a short amount of time.” 

Stone worked with one farm that had water issues in all the barns and, in that case, the water needed to be filtered. If new barns go up in his area, he says filtering the water is a necessary step, but if the producer chooses not to filter the water, then there are products that can help control the bacteria. 

“It’s somewhat a matter of what the producer wants to live with,” Stone says. “More owners are fed up with the problem and want to do something. Their choice depends on how much they want to spend.”

Water filtration systems can cost between $10,000 and $20,000, but producers are willing to make this purchase when nothing else helps. 

“Primary disinfection involves treating the water coming into the barn. Secondary disinfection is getting the lines in the barn clean, and that’s where you get your biggest bang,” Stone adds. He has used bleach, chlorine dioxide, hydrogen peroxide and acids, noting there are different products that can keep minerals and bacteria from building up in the supply lines. Bladder-type waterers also can benefit water quality. “If we can keep the water cleaner, the waterers will be in service longer and we’ll have fewer issues,” he says. 

Be aware of the issue
The first step is to send in a water sample to check water quality, but one check won’t tell the whole story. If you notice health issues and you can’t put your finger on the cause, it would be wise to check the water, Stone says, though just checking it once won’t tell producers what they need to know.

“One culture isn’t going to give you an answer – water lines are intermittent shedders,” he says. “It’s a living environment and you have to keep looking.” Bacterial shedding from water lines is not constant, and many variables affect shedding rates.

Stone recalls one farm that had massive growth in coliforms over a short time period. Several of the water lines were replaced, then he used products in the water to clean the lines.

“The enteric disease we were seeing went away,” he says. “After we clean the lines, it’s up to the owner as to what they want to do. Some will put in a pump that adds product regularly. Others are putting in sand filtration systems.” 

The bottom line, Stone says, is that water quality needs to be monitored. Testing and quality control should be considered a standard operating procedure, especially in the local area in which he works. 

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