Water — it has been called the most necessary ingredient in swine nutrition. But will it always be available in the seemingly unlimited quantity it is today?

Chances are, you have read some alarm- ing predictions regarding certain areas of the country running out of water or imposing rationing as competition for this resource intensifies.

Ask yourself, are you making sure that your water management practices are economical and environmentally sound?

The three main water uses on hog operations are animal consumption, animal cooling and sanitation. With close attention, you can reduce water waste in these areas and become more efficient in your water usage.

According to a Manitoba Agricultural Food and Rural Initiatives study, pork production’s grow/finish phase offers the greatest savings potential for both water consumption and waste. (For more, go to porkmag.com/environment.)

But regardless of the operation type, first look for and fix any leaks in the barn, paying close attention to drinkers. “Leaking drinkers are the biggest water wastage problem on hog farms,” says Mike Brumm, Brumm Swine Consultancy, Mankato, Minn. “A drinker leaking at the rate of 90 drips per minute is the equivalent of 7.6 gallons per day.”

There’s no doubt that water delivery devices can have a big impact on water conservation. They also play a major role in manure storage and land- application rates — both are increasingly important issues facing hog operations. Limiting water waste not only increases pit storage capacity but improves the manure’s nutrient concentration as well.

Mike and David Beard, owners of Meadow Lane Farms, Frankfort, Ind., use cup waterers in their finishing barns which help reduce water use by up to 50 percent. “In one quad-finisher using cup waterers, 1.1 million gallons of manure are produced per year,” David Beard estimates. “With the swinger nipple assembly (the other style used by the Beard operation) about 2.2 million gallons of manure are produced. Our nipple-watered pens fill the pits in about seven months, compared to 14 to 15 months in the buildings with the cup system.”

Beard estimates it costs $70 per pen to install cup waterers compared to about $25 per pen for a swinger nipple assembly. In a 128-pen building, that amounts to an additional cost of $5,760. He further estimates that custom-applying 1.1 million gallons of manure is approximately $16,500. “Payoff for the additional cost of the cup waterers seems almost instant, strictly from the manure disposal view,” he adds.

That provides a big benefit to Beard who applies all the manure from their finishing barns to 1,700 acres of corn and soybean crops. He also operates a custom manure application business, Waste Application Services.

“Cup-watered buildings have slightly thicker manure, but not so thick that it’s dif- ficult to pump,” Beard says. “Less water in the pit translates to higher-value manure and less expense due to less total volume to apply.”

Beard finds that using the more efficient cup waterers also helps improve the effectiveness of water-delivered medications. “More of the medication makes it to the pig instead of being wasted in the pit,” he says.

Misting for evaporative cooling of animals during hot weather also requires significant water use.

“Pay attention to the system’s ‘on’ time,” Brumm suggests. “If water has to be on a rather long time for pigs in the farthest pens to get wet, consider re-plumbing the line so that the water enters at the midpoint and disperses in both directions of the building, rather than the more typical entry point at one end,” he recommends. “I’ve seen this make a major impact on reducing mister water use.”

Power-washing is another a big water consumer and increases water content in the pit. To reduce the dilution from this procedure, Meadow Lane Farms uses a soaker system to prepare a room for more thorough cleaning. Ceiling-mounted sprinklers wet the pens and soften manure prior to power-washing. “We use a timed solenoid to control the sprinklers and run them about five minutes per hour for 12 to 18 hours prior to power washing,” Beard says. “Preparing the room in this way prior to washing saves a tremendous amount of water.”

Water Monitoring
With an increasingly watchful eye on feed budgets, producers tend to gauge performance on feed efficiency. But since factors such as feed bridging or out-of-feed events can vary feed usage, monitoring a barn’s water consumption can be a better gauge of pig performance, Brumm says. Water monitoring also helps signal potential health problems.

“Review herd health if water disappearance decreases for three days in a row or a 30 percent to 40 percent decline from one day to the next,” Brumm notes. Graphic charts are easier to relate to and make more sense to barn workers.

Make sure that the water you’re measuring is directed to pig consumption and that the meter isn’t also measuring other water use such as for cleaning or misting. For information from the University of Minnesota Extension on the benefits of water monitoring, go to porkmag.com/facilities.

You can find even more tips on water conservation at porkmag.com/environment.

Conservation Outside the Barn
Building field-edge habitat buffers around waterways, streams and lakes is a tactic that producers who are serious about conservation use. Mike Beard has adopted environmental practices that promote conservation on Meadow Lane Farms’ 1,700 acres of crop-land. He employs 30-foot to 45-foot buffers of native grasses around wet areas in crop fields and along waterways that cross the farm’s land. “Conservation is a critical component of our entire operation,” he says.

Environmental management practices including lagoon management and water conservation measures are important practices at Oetting Hog Farms, Concordia, Mo. Steve and Sharon Oetting use water recycled from the farm’s three-cell effluent treatment lagoon to regularly flush the swine operation’s manure pits.

Effluent from the lagoon also is used to fertilize corn fields and other cropland within reach of the farm’s irrigation system. Sharing a dam with the three-cell lagoon is a freshwater lake. The lake is stocked with bluegill, bass and catfish. The freshwater lake has allowed the Oettings to reduce their water purchase by over 1 million gallons annually. The water in the lake is used as drinking water for the animals, for washing buildings and to satisfy other needs around the farm.

No question, water will be an increasingly valuable commodity. Doing what you can now to conserve water inside the barn and outside makes sense economically as well as environmentally.

EQUIP Incentives May Be Available

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program offers potential financial incentives to make improvements or modifications in your water-management efforts. Two of EQIP’s priorities are:

  • Reduce nonpoint-source pollution, such as nutrients, sediment, pesticides or excess salinity in impaired watersheds; reduce groundwater contamination; and reduce point-sources such as contamination from confined-animal-feeding operations
  • Conserve groundwater and surface-water resources.

“The national program serves as guidance for states,” says Allan Stokes, director of environmental programs, National Pork Board. The USDA state conservationist in collaboration with a state’s technical committee makes final decisions regarding priorities and funding eligibility for EQIP projects within each state.

“Some of the leading swine operation projects that have received EQIP support include development of a nutrient-management plan, replacing open lagoons and improvements to manure storage and transfer facilities,” Stokes says.

“It’s important for pork producers to provide input to their state technical committee on funding needs and consider serving on the state’s technical committee,” he adds. To collect some basic information about the EQIP program and how to apply, go to porkmag.com/environment.