Considerations of Water for Sustainable Swine Production, By Ryan Samuel from South Dakota State University

Water is important for every living being for even the most basic metabolic processes. Pigs require water a consistent and clean water supply to maintain proper hydration, support digestion, and regulate body temperature. More specifically, water is required for biochemical reactions, functioning of cells, and nutrient and waste transportation in the body. It is recommended that water be available free choice for swine. The number of pigs per drinking space, drinker type, water flow rates of the drinkers, or water quality parameters may be less well defined. In designing and managing production facilities, decisions must be made concerning all of the above. In addition, the costs of water acquisition, and the storage and disposition of wasted water has led to an increased desire to better understand the water availability needs of pigs.

Figure 1. Daily water usage of 1200 hd (gallons).

Modern swine production systems often utilize automatic watering systems to ensure consistent and reliable water sources. Figure 1 shows the output from monitored water lines at the 1200 hd wean-to-finish commercial research facility south of Brookings, SD. Water usage increased from 0.5 gallons per pig per day to 1.5 gallons per pig per day over the growth period. Within a 24- hour period, grow-finish and gestating swine demonstrate a peak in water usage in late afternoon while lactating females consume water more consistently throughout the day.

Daily drinking water usage can be a predictor of swine health. In the chart, for example, there is some downward trend around day 20 of the nursery period where pigs were treated for scours before water intake returned to normal. Further on, there are some upward spikes in water usage during the summer (between days on feed 80 and 100). Water usage at the barn plateaued from about 100 days on feed to 140 days on feed. Marketing of pigs from the facility disrupted the plateau as pigs were removed weekly.

Dr. Mike Brumm has investigated the relationship between water and feed and proposed ratios of how much water is needed as it relates to how much feed pigs eat. Ratios can vary based on factors such as age, weight, environmental conditions, diet composition, and the inclusion of feed additives, but 2:1 or 3:1 as the relationship of feed to water intake highlight how important it is that pigs have adequate access to clean drinking water. In other words, as water intake is directly related to feed intake and then feed intake is directly related to growth performance, water intake is directly related to the growth performance of pigs. Thus, growth efficiency is about providing the proper amount of water so that they can consume the amount of feed they need, efficiently digest nutrients from the feed, and then those nutrients are moved around the body efficiently.

To produce safe healthy pork sustainably, it is important to consider water usage for pigs to meet their water requirement in comparison to the amount of water that is used but not consumed. If water is not consumed and ends up in the manure pit as wasted water, that can dilute nutrients in the manure and reduce the value of that manure when it goes back on the land. Also, water then ends up locked up in the pit before it gets pumped onto the land and, thus, before it re-enters the water cycle. If pigs are using water, but not drinking that water, that negatively impacts the sustainability of pork production.

Pigs need water for various purposes including nutrient and waste transport, digestion, temperature regulation, and protecting body organs. Therefore, pigs need access to drinking water to grow and reproduce efficiently. The swine industry has reduced water usage over time through technological advancements, responsible water management, and dedication to education and the We Care Ethical principles.

The amount of water needed daily by the pig depends on numerous influences, including temperature, feedstuffs, stage of production and health. Daily water needs for pigs range from < 0.5 gal/pig/day for newly weaned pigs to greater than 1.5 gal/pig/day for grow-finish pigs utilizing nipple drinkers. Water requirements for breeding swine range from 4 gal/day for gestating females to 6 gal/day for lactating swine. Appropriate water flow rates from drinking devices range from 1-2 cups/min for weaned pigs to 4 cups/min for the breeding herd. Monitoring daily drinking water usage over time can be used as a predictor of swine health.

In conclusion, the sustainability of water for swine revolves around responsible sourcing of water, efficient distribution, waste management, and continuous improvement in farming practices. By embracing these principles, swine producers contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future for both their operations and the broader agricultural landscape.