Ensuring that hogs have a consistently fresh, high-quality feed and water supply is Job 1 on every hog farm. That sounds simple enough, but even the simplest things don’t always flow as smoothly as planned.

According to Canada's Prairie Swine Centre surveys, feed intake can vary by at least 25 percent between farms. With feed accounting for 50 percent to 80 percent of production costs, it’s worth paying attention to those feeders and the feed supply.

In that vein, Prairie Swine Centre researchers offer the following checklists to help maximize feed and water intake. They stress the importance of avoiding out-of-feed events and point to factors that influence water consumption.

So, consider putting these tasks on your checklist to keep both feed and water flowing.

Feed Intake

  • Check feeder adjustments regularly. Pigs may not have access to as much as 10 percent of the feeders for a variety of reasons, including that feeders are adjusted too tight.  The Centre’s researchers point out that performance is maximized when about 40 percent of the trough is covered with feed.
  • Always remember to look for feed bridging problems; it’s just too easy to get passive about that task. 
  • Keep an eye on feed delivery schedules. Check and double check feed orders ahead of weekends, holidays and staff vacations.
  • If the room’s temperature is too high or too low, feed intake and feed efficiency will decline. In such cases, older pigs are affected more than young pigs.
  • Mash diets and wet/dry feeders can increase feed consumption for a 5 percent improvement in average daily gain.
  • Water influences feed consumption. Always ensure that pigs have access to water. In pen housing, provide at least one functioning nipple drinker per 12 pigs.
  • Avoid crowding pigs; if it occurs in the finisher, growth rate can decline as much as 10 percent.
  • Minimize pig mixing, especially late in the growth phase. Studies have shown that mixing pigs two weeks before marketing reduced growth rate 11 percent.
  • Even moderate health challenges can reduce feed intake 5 percent or more. Severe health problems can drop feed intake 15 percent.
  • Diet composition matters. Excess minerals, especially calcium, may reduce feed intake. Make sure that the diets are meeting a proper amino acid balance and energy-to-amino acid balance for the age of targeted pigs. From an economic standpoint, if the percentage increase in digestible energy is greater than the percentage increase in diet cost, it will pay for itself in terms of feed efficiency.

Water Intake

  • To reduce water waste, review how water nipples are mounted throughout the facilities. Nipples that point straight out should be posted at the pig’s shoulder height. For nipples mounted downward at 45 degrees, the nipple should be posted 2 inches above the pig’s back. Set the nipples to accommodate the height of the smallest pig in the pen.
  • Check flow rates. A flow rate that is too slow is just as costly as one that flows too strongly because it limits the pigs’ intake. Naturally, flow rates that are too strong discourage pigs from drinking. Recommended flow rates are 1,500 ml for lactating sows and 700 ml for grow/finish pigs. Of course, you need to check flow rates throughout the barn to ensure adequate flow everywhere.
  • According to Prairie Swine Centre researchers, wet/dry feeders in the grow/finish phase reduce water use 34 percent and slurry volume by 20 percent to 40 percent compared with dry feeders and a water bowl.
  • Feeding diets containing excessive protein and/or excessive mineral levels increases the animals' water use.
  • Factors that depress water intake include cold stress, warm water temperatures, high salinity levels in the water and off flavors and/or contamination.
  • Groups of more than 10 nursery pigs and 15 to 20 pigs in the finisher require at least two water-delivery devices per group. Ensure that stall drinkers work.

It cannot be overstated how important it is to prevent feed and water intake interruptions, as they are keys not just to your operation’s pig flow and efficiency but also your herd’s health and well-being.

For More Information

So, does pork production really overuse water as some opponents like to claim?
Mike Brumm, Brumm Swine Consultancy, Mankato, Minn., offers these perspectives.

Q: Does pork production use an excessive amount of water?

A: Let’s do some math — I’ll use some Canadian data that suggest 1.8 gallons per pig per day is an estimate of total water use in a finishing barn. Then, let’s consider a 2,400-head, double-wide finishing barn. Total water use is estimated at 2,400 spaces x 365 days x 1.8 gallons per day = 1,576,800 gallons maximum.

That is high when you consider a finishing barn with an 8-foot-deep pit gets 12 months’ storage with cup drinkers or wet/dry feeders providing the animals’ water source. The pit volume at 7 feet of manure depth for a 100-foot x 196-foot barn becomes 137,200 cubic feet or 1,026,256 gallons.

For ease of math, let’s use 1 million total gallons per year. That sounds like a lot of water and tends to cause a stir at public hearings.

Q: How does that compare to crop irrigation or ethanol production?

A: Figure 27,154 gallons per acre inch of water — a commonly used term in irrigation. Let’s work with 10-acre-inches of water, a common irrigation rate for corn and soybeans in Nebraska. Ten-acre-inches equal 271,540 gallons.

This suggests that a double-wide finishing barn will use the equivalent of the water used to irrigate 4 acres of corn — not a very big number when put in that perspective.

Now let’s consider ethanol production. Estimates are that ethanol plants use 3.1 to 4.2 gallons of water for each gallon of ethanol produced. That means a 50 million-gallon ethanol plant will use 155 million to 210 million gallons of water, suggesting that each
50 million-gallon ethanol plant uses the same amount of water as 150 to 200 double-wide finishing barns would use.