The importance of water quality
in pig production

Published: 2023-12-20

Pigs consist mostly of water, up to 55% of adult and 70% of weaners, and water is crucial to their metabolism. Pigs can survive for quite a long time without feed but only for a couple of days without water. 

The liquid requirement of pigs is very high and varies considerably according to the weight of the animal, season, housing climate, milk yield, health status, and the feed content of dry matter, protein, and salts.
The liquid consumption of a pig may double if, for example, it has a kidney disorder due to feeding feed polluted with fungi toxins.

Pigs must have access to water night and day. If there is a risk of water spillage with the supply system, watering at frequent intervals around the clock may be necessary. Another possibility is to supply a flow meter which will ensure a constant level of water in the trough.

The water requirement of pigs increases currently with the quantity of feed consumed. When supplying feed with a high salt content to pigs, their water requirements increases significantly. Pigs must also have access to drinking water when they are supplied with liquid feed.

Nutritionist, Pigs
+ 45 2981 0171

Source: SEGES

Source: SEGES svineproduktion

Sows in particular have a large need for water due to fetal growth and milk production. Water requirements of lactating sows vary about the number of piglets in the sow and their milk consumption.

You must always make sure that the valve type, number of valves/cups, and pressure are adjusted to the pig's water needs. Installation height and location in the pen are also important. For ex. -drinking cups must not be placed in a corner, as the pigs will then defecate in them. Furthermore, avoid placing drinking cups close to the gates, as the pigs risk bumping into them when inserting/removing pigs. Height should be according to the pig's age and size.

The smallest pig in the pen should always be able to reach for the nipple. The valve with a drinking plate for suckling piglets is placed 50 – 60 mm above the floor. Suckling- and bite nipples are fitted so the water runs directly into the mouth of the piglet. The valves must be placed at a height, which makes it easy for the pigs to drink.

Sows in particular have a large need for water due to fetal growth and milk production.

Source: SEGES

As pigs in growth change dimensions during the period in a stable unit, the placement of the bite nipple should be adjustable. In practice, it can be difficult to make adjustments in time. Instead, the valves could be placed at different heights as there are more valves in each pen.

In individual feeding troughs and long feeding troughs the nose valves are positioned vertically with the outlet 70-100 mm above the bottom, so the valve is below the edge of the trough. In this way, the water waste is reduced.

Our experiences show that the quality of water can be very different. As bacteria thrive and grow in water there is a big risk that they form toxins.
You should often control water quality. It’s good for animals and the economy. 

The typical problems when water is polluted are diarrhea or high mortality in all stables. In some cases, there were fixed strong diarrhea and cases of death in the farrowing stable. Bone problems by different animal groups can also be caused by the formation of toxins from bacteria in the water system. 
Also, tail biting, navel sucking, and urine sucking can occur if water intake is too low.

Risks of bad water quality

Quality of water is very important for optimal growth and milk production. Bad water hygiene can cause dead small pigs or slow down the efficiency.

Table 3. Water quality standards

Source: DanBred

Water access night and day

Ensure pigs have 24/7 water access. If spillage is a concern, water them regularly or use a flow meter for a steady trough level.

Water control

Monitor water quality regularly to prevent bacteria growth and toxin formation, benefiting both animals and the economy.

Clean water

If tests show contamination, consider cleaning and disinfecting

Location of water

Ensure valve type, number of valves/cups, and pressure match pig water needs. Pay attention to installation height and pen location.

In drinking water, special attention should be paid to such substances as nitrate, nitrite, ammonium, iron, total microbial count, and the number of coliform bacteria in the water.

Nitrate is almost always found in groundwater to a greater or lesser extent. Nitrate itself is not toxic. However, nitrate and iron compounds in water can provide a breeding ground for bacteria, some of which can produce toxins.

If coliform bacteria or high total cell count are found in drinking water, this is a sign that the water is contaminated and there is a risk of infection for pigs.
The farm water pipe also poses a risk of contaminating drinking water. Bacteria enter the system through drinking valves, through dust in open water tanks, or various dispensing equipment.

The high temperature in the stable, as well as the relatively low flow rate of water during rearing, as well as at night, provide good conditions for the growth of bacteria.
Between groups, drinking water may remain in the pipes for several days or a week before the pigs begin to drink. Therefore, it is always important to make sure that the “old” water is drained through pipes both in the farrowing area and in the nursery before placing the animals for ex. with the usage of clamps (source

If poor water quality is suspected, a sample is first taken for bacteriological and nitrate analysis. The water sample must be taken from the sections where there are problems. A water sample is taken where the animals drink, but this must be done without contaminating the water sample with other substances such as manure, etc.

If tests indicate contamination of the pipe system, cleaning and disinfection should be considered.

Consider acid on water:

  • Add 1,0 per mille Multicid in the same period as when the piglets used to get zinc oxide
  • 2,0 per mille at a high level of bacteria
Cleaning the water system:
  • Adding acids to the water doesn’t clean the water pipelines
  • When group medication or pain medication with sugar as a carrier: Be aware to clean the water system
  • Use a suitable product for cleaning and disinfection the water system
  • If it is AI-AU production, clean between every batch
After disinfection, ensure that any biofilm is completely removed from the pipes.
Avoid simultaneous use of organic acids and medicine, vaccines, etc. in water!

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