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Keeping track of water intake to monitor pig performance

Quick facts

Monitoring daily water use in individual groups of pigs offers a low-cost, yet valuable way to observe and care for pigs. Charting water disappearance allows for quicker detection that something is harming pig performance. But it doesn’t directly show what the problem is.

Research and field observations would show that monitoring water use is much more predictable and sensitive than monitoring feed intake. Monitoring water also takes little time to implement and maintain.

Water quality and availability for our animals is commonly taken for granted. But water is the nutrient needed in the largest amount by swine. Production systems may limit water access by overlooking recommendations for

  • Number of drinking spaces
  • Drinker types and adjustments
  • Amount of water delivered into barns

Dr. Mike Brumm, Extension Swine Specialist at the University of Nebraska, studied water needs and water intake patterns of swine. He found that monitoring daily water use in individual groups of pigs can provide information to aid in predicting pig performance. This information also allows for making timely management decisions.

Monitoring stress and performance in pigs 

Using feed intake

Producers often try to estimate feed intake to predict performance, and thus serve as an indirect indicator for stress or lower performance in pigs. They may monitor feed auger run times and use feed budgets to accomplish this. There are many stressors in swine, which include:

  • Onset of disease
  • Excessive changes in temperature
  • Heat load
  • Rough handling
  • Commingling of pigs

But other factors outside the pig’s control can also affect feed intake, such as out-of-feed events. These situations commonly occur and may be a result of feed bridging in bins, equipment malfunction, or human errors in scheduling feed delivery.

Using water intake 

Water intake is under greater control by the pig than feed intake. If you properly maintain water delivery equipment, pigs will always have access to water.

Water recording devices, manual or electronic, allow producers to better monitor water use by room or barn. Research by Dr. Brumm and others show water intake and animal health strongly relate to each other. If water use drops more than 30 percent in a day, or drops for three consecutive days, a potential health problem may be occurring. Monitoring daily trends can allow you to detect disease onset or health problems 24 to 48 hours before clinical symptoms occur. Providing preventative therapy at the earliest possible time can mean the difference between a small performance blip and an all-out disease outbreak.

Keeping track of water use

Several companies offer electronic water monitoring systems that provide real time data and offer the greatest sensitivity. But a less costly choice that’s easy to use involves mapping daily water use with a water usage chart (XLS), developed by the University of Nebraska and the Iowa Pork Industry.

The chart allows a space for producers or employees to record water meter levels and graph daily water use. Be sure to read water meters levels at the same time each day. The graph in the chart provides a visual image of water disappearance, and allows caretakers to more easily identify changes in water intake and thus pig performance.

Mark Whitney, former Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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