Based on 10 years of research involving university and commercial pork operations in North Carolina, Glen Almond says water waste is a far greater factor than producers realize because it can boost production costs three ways:

  • Higher electric bills for pumping.
  • More costly waste disposal.
  • Wasted water medication.

"Zero water waste is not attainable," says Almond, "but in many instances waste can be reduced by 10 percent to 30 percent, which can mean significant cost savings."

While major renovations to a water system can be expensive, watchfulness and preventitive maintenance can go a long way to reduce waste. "At the same time, it can cut manure-handling expense because water spillage increases the volume of liquid manure," he notes.

Here, Almond discusses various ways in which water may be wasted on a pork operation and how to reduce it.

  • Leaky drinkers and pipes can waste substantial amounts of water. "The amount depends on the size of the leak, pipe diameter and water pressure," he notes. But a single leak may cause more water loss in a day than the amount consumed by all of the pigs in the building on that day.
  • Nipple-drinker height can make a big difference in water waste. "A drinker should be at snout level or just above the pig's backline," says Almond. When it is too low or too high, considerable water is wasted while pigs attempt to drink.

    With new drinkers, the height is usually easy to adjust as the pigs grow. The hard part is seeing that the adjustments are made.

    "With old nipple drinkers, it is not unusual for the brackets to corrode with time, making adjustment difficult and time-consuming," he notes. That almost guarantees the job doesn't get done.

  • Worn O-rings can reduce water flow or dramatically increase it, points out Almond. "In either case, do not hesitate to remove the drinker, check the filter and O-ring. If the filter is dirty, clean it. If the ring is flattened, replace it.
  • Swing drinkers appear to be gaining in popularity because of advantages over conventional mounted drinkers, says Almond. Height is easily adjusted to the pigs' size.

    "Field reports indicate that they offer a 10 percent to 30 percent reduction in water use," he adds. Also, there is some indication that the pigs' weight gains and feed conversion improve.

  • Bowl or cup drinkers, used more widely in Europe, can cut waste up to 15 percent compared to mounted drinkers, according to Almond. However, contamination with feces may be a problem, and the animals may refuse to drink. Therefore, the bowls or cups need frequent cleaning.
  • Arato drinkers are relatively new in the United States, but these drinkers, mounted like conventional nipple drinkers, are widely used in Europe. They are designed so that a pig needs to "engulf" the drinker in its mouth, thereby reducing spillage by 14 percent to 30 percent, according to Almond's research when compared with conventional mounted drinkers. Pigs quickly learn to use these drinkers, he adds.
  • Troughs with timers that are used with gestation and breeding stalls, often waste considerable water, says Almond. Water usage ranges from 4 to 12 gallons per sow per day compared with 2 to 2.5 gallons with drinkers.

    "Actual usage varies due to tim- ing, trough length and season," says Almond. Timer setting makes a big difference; he suggests running for 15 to 30 minutes at 2- to 4-hour intervals. "Some producers use dams in troughs to increase sows' access to water. But success is variable," he notes.

  • Water-line breaks should be treated like an emergency. "Immediate attention is vital," says Almond, not only because of water loss, but also because of the deprivation of water to pigs."

    He offers these examples to show the immensity of a break:
    A 1-inch inner-diameter pipe at 30 psi and 10 feet-per-second velocity delivers 20 gallons per minute or 1,200 gallons per hour.

    A 1.5-inch inner-diameter pipe at 30 psi and 20 feet-per-second velocity delivers 80 gallons per minute or 4,800 gallons per hour.

  • Pressure washing is extremely important for animal health and should not be compromised, says
    Almond. "Just be careful to stop the flow when not directing the nozzle to remove dirt, feed and so forth." Even though pre-soaking uses water, it does reduce pressure-washing time.
  • Misters, drippers and cool cells generally use water efficiently in Almond's experience. "Water waste with these systems is insignificant. Just observe the cooling system in the routine daily inspections of a building."
  • Water meters let you monitor use and detect waste. At minimum, Almond recommends having a whole-farm water meter to record total weekly water use in the operation. "From week to week, it will show any drastic changes and alert you to check for the cause," he says. You will need additional meters to regulate or manipulate water usage by changing drinkers in a building.
  • Managing existing equipment. Almond recommends that you visually check drinkers twice a day. Include it in your workers' daily routines. "Weekly checking will miss leaking drinkers," he notes. Respond quickly to repair drinkers and water lines. If you have meters, check drinker flow rates weekly.
  • Selecting new equipment. Almond has several suggestions: Consult with your Extension specialist, veterinarian and fellow producers. Find out what is working best? What problems are typically encountered with a system? If possible, visit a farm with the equipment you are considering. Get feedback from the producer on the system's strengths and weaknesses.

    Recognize that there is no perfect system for every farm. Keep in mind that a new system may work well when first installed but it takes time to see if it will hold up.

    With a radically different piece of new equipment, Almond says, you may want to try it on a limited scale. If it works to your satisfaction, then add it elsewhere.

    One or several of these tips may help you cut water waste that not only leads to cost savings, but can benefit your liquid-waste management efforts as well.

Water-Medication Waste Adds Up

Depending on cost of the antibiotic or other medication you administer to your pigs via water, waste can increase production costs dramatically.

Glen Almond, swine researcher at North Carolina State University, offers these examples for a three-day treatment during the finishing period. The medication cost is 10 cents per gallon of water and he's assuming average water consumption:

With an efficient watering system, 1.5 to 2 gallons are consumed per head daily. A three-day medication cost per head would be 45 to 60 cents.

If waste increases water usage to 3 to 5 gallons per head per day – not unrealistic – medication cost for the three days jumps to 90 cents to $1.50 per head.

For one treatment of a 1,280-head finishing floor, $1,152 worth of medication would be wasted during those three days.