Why Water Disinfection Matters to the Success of Your Swine Operation

Water is often referred to as the forgotten nutrient when it comes to raising swine. Most often water quality is an afterthought addressed only when it becomes an immediate concern. Water is the number one resource animals need to consume daily to survive. Without regular monitoring or testing of your site’s water, this leaves an open door to your biosecurity plan. Unchecked water can pose a significant risk to the health of your animals and bottom line.

“If we’re not evaluating water as we are evaluating feed ingredients, operations are missing a huge opportunity,” said Kemin Associate Key Account Manager Chelsie Fallis.

Before joining Kemin, Fallis spent almost six years in live production working with contractors and producers. She was focused on animal health, producer development, and biosecurity best practices. Working with one of her producers on how water quality was impacting their operation led her to Kemin where she now dedicates her time solely on water quality and the impact clean water can have on pig production.

The Effects of Poor Water Quality on Swine Production

When it comes to drinking water, pigs are not particularly different from humans, Fallis pointed out. “You’ll drink anything to stay alive, but you like it a lot better when it tastes good and makes you feel good. If you have to drink something that makes you sick, smells, or tastes bad, you’re not going to want to drink much at all, just enough to stay alive,” she said. The same is true for your animals.

Aside from reduced water intake due to odor, taste, or temperature, inconsistent or poor water quality can cause a slew of other problems. A big concern for Fallis: Biofilm build-up in waterlines and how this impacts the overall quality of the water. “Having potential contaminants in the water concerns me for many reasons. Biofilm can harbor pathogens and bacteria potentially impacting the efficacy of antibiotics. The buildup of biofilm in the water lines can be contributing to poor performance and health challenges. What we do not know right now is how much of that antibiotic is getting eaten up in the water line before it gets to the pig. This could lead to a perceived drug failure and a re-administration of antibiotics increasing the cost going into those animals, increased labor and time lost getting animals to recover,” Fallis said. “Producers are working with their veterinarians on utilizing the right drug for the right bug at the right time, and often yield less of a result than anticipated. The concern is, are we truthfully getting a therapeutic dose to the animal as expected or are we losing efficacy due to contaminants (biofilm) in the water,” she asked.

The initial financial investment of continuous water sanitation can understandably be a cause for hesitation. “Operations are adding some form of water treatment for one reason or another. I.e.: bleach, chlorine tabs, citric acid, apple cider vinegar with no standardization or measurement of success,” Fallis admits. During her time in the field, she was willing make changes and look at things that had never been considered if it meant helping the pigs and the producer be more successful. Being able to test, monitor, and improve water quality at any time is worth evaluating for your operation. Healthy, good tasting water, that meets the needs of the animal leads to increased water consumption, increased feed intake, and pigs that respond to challenges faster due to reduced pathogen build-up in their environment. Producers dedicate their lives to raising safe pork and take pride in their operations. Considering an opportunity to reduce labor strain, antibiotic use, and increase the number of full value pigs to market is something worth looking at. “Knowing you are providing the highest quality water and regulating a previously unchecked source in your biosecurity plan is something that would make me sleep easier at night,” she said.

Causes of Water Quality Problems and What to Look For

Any operation can face water quality challenges. You could have decades-old water lines, or you could have an updated facility with brand new water lines. Site location, rainfall, and ground conditions can all be factors outside of your facility. Inside of your building is where build up, debris, and biofilm can occur. Many water medications and electrolytes can leave a residue in your medication bucket. The same thing occurs in your waterlines if constant disinfection is not completed. Biofilm can harbor the perfect environment for pathogens to form and pose a risk to pig health.  Ensuring consistent and adequate flow at each nipple based on pig size is critical for water intake. Plugged nipples or low flowing nipples will impact consumption. Pigs will wait to go to the nipple that has higher or adequate flow vs. waiting for the lower flow. This increased competition in the pens can cause decreased performance and recovery, especially during a health challenge.

Many producers don’t evaluate water quality unless they’re having significant challenges with water flow, plugged nipples, decreased water consumption, difficulty keeping medication in suspension, or consistently low performing sites due to re-occurring challenges.  Fallis said, “In my experience, this is typically the trigger point for producers to administer a one-time additive to try and clean the water.” It is important to ensure products being administered or added to clean the water are in regulation and have labeled usage for animal drinking water.

Fallis shared that producers should also look into their water quality if they are seeing recurrent health problems or lower performance with no apparent cause.

Benefits of Good Water Quality

Swine producers may see a lot of benefits when they maintain proper water quality. Their pigs are healthier and more productive when they consume their daily requirement of clean water. Producers can appreciate the return on investment when they see an increase in livability, production metrics, confidence in antibiotic use and know they are preventing buildup in water lines.

Strategies for Improving Water Quality in Your Swine Operation

Fallis recommends developing a comprehensive water management strategy that includes continuous sanitation with a stabilized chlorine dioxide disinfectant with proven efficacy against bacterial, viral, and fungal pathogens. She emphasized the need for a continuous disinfectant over solely using a flush product when you have water challenges. She explained that flushing water lines can help get a problem to a more manageable level, but sometimes you end up flushing some of the pathogen load to the back of the water line. “You want a continuous santitation system with a proven disinfectant cleaning your lines at all times. A one-time flush is just that, one time and short-lasting protection. You want to ensure you’re actively guarding your water line and breaking down biofilm-forming pathogens as they show up,” she said.

In creating your water management plan, Fallis recommended working with your nutritionist or veterinarian to tailor strategies for your operation and, in addition to using a continuous disinfectant, you should include:

  • A strict cleaning routine for waterlines and medicators
  • Regular testing and flushing of waterlines
  • Regular flow checks in every pen
  • Routine monitoring and replacement of wear parts
  • Training for on-farm employees.

By prioritizing water sanitation, you can safeguard the sustainability, profitability, and health status of your operation in the long term.

Learn more at kemin.com/prooxine today.