Water is an essential element to maintain life; for pigs it also can help improve life through administering medication and vaccines when needed.

But water requirements for pigs are not as well understood as those for other nutrients. There has been some research to determine grow/finish pigs’ drinking sessions and water disappearance, as well as the amount of water needed for different growth stages.

In the grow/finish stage, water intake ranges from 2 to 5 gallons per animal per day when the environment is within the thermo-neutral zone. The reality is that most reported water intake estimates reflect water disappearance, including waste as well as what the pig actually consumes. Grow/finish pigs can waste up to 60 percent of the water from a poorly managed nipple drinker. Drinking-water volume offered to growing pigs is generally not restricted. But little is understood about nursery pigs’ consumption patterns, such as the time spent at drinking points each day, the number of visits within specific timelines, average drinking session length and diurnal patterns of ingestion. Other factors such  as how social rank within a pen impacts drinking patterns, competition for access to the few drinkers, group size and male-to-female ratio are unknown.

This information is critical to monitor animal health, as well as to deliver medication and oral vaccines effectively. One such vaccine affects ileitis (Enterisol Ileitis FF.) The U.S. swine industry estimates that the loss of production from ileitis infection could be $98 million annually or more. The Enterisol Ileitis FF label recommendation is to “provide sufficient watering space so that all pigs can drink within a 4- to 6-hour time frame.”

To gain a clearer perspective, Iowa State University and Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. conducted a pilot study in November 2005, which showed that regardless of vaccine administration start time (7:00, 8:00, 9:00 or 10:00 a.m.) the percentage of pigs that visited the drinker at least once for 5 seconds or more within a 2-hour window ranged from 81 percent to 98 percent over three days. Within a 4-hour window the range was 94 percent to 100 percent. However, 100 percent of the pigs visited the drinker at least once within 6 hours, regardless of the vaccine start time or day.

In 2006, the study went further, using more pens.

Here’s what took place. Researchers used four conventional nursery pens (60.8 x 146.4 inches), housing 23 to 26 pigs per pen, to observe and visually record drinking behavior. Seven-week-old pigs weighing 52.8 pounds (± 1.69 pounds) were randomly assigned to pens. Each pen of pigs had access to a completely balanced corn/soybean meal diet and had Tenderfoot flooring. The lights were turned off at and on at each day.

Water was available ad libitum and was delivered through one metal nipple-cup-bowl drinker (8.8-inchwidth) per pen.

Plywood sheets were used as dividers to disrupt social interactions between pigs of adjoining pens. All pigs in a pen were identified with an individual number. A video camera was positioned over each drinker to record drinking behaviors for two consecutive days in late March 2006. High and low temperature and relative humidity were between 84.38o F and 75.22o F, and 66.6 percent and 31.9 percent, respectively. A pig was considered to be drinking when its head was above the drinker for 5 seconds or longer.

What did we find out? Looking at a 2-hour window over the two days, 79 percent to 100 percent of the pigs visited the drinker. Within a 4-hour window, the range was 96 percent to 100 percent. However, 100 percent of the pigs visited the drinker at least once within 6 hours, which supports the pilot project's results.

This tells us that insufficient vaccination time could result in incomplete population immunization. Therefore, it is recommended to administer drinking-water vaccines for at least 4 hours, with a preference for 6 hours.

So the take-home messages include:

  • Vaccine administration time is critical to ensure that all pigs have had a chance to visit the drinker. 
  • This research supports the revised (Enterisol Ileitis FF) label recommendations that the vaccine administration time should be “a minimum of 4 hours, preferably 6 hours,” based on the Iowa State and BIVI collaborative research.
  • If insufficient vaccine administration time occurs, there may be a possibility for a small percentage of pigs heading into the grow/finish production stage without the necessary protection against ileitis.
  • The overall drinking patterns identified in the study offer useful knowledge in terms of providing medications, monitoring herd health and ensuring adequate water supplies to these young, growing pigs.

Editor’s note: Other contributors to the research include Robert Baker and Kathryn Behrens, Iowa State University; Roy Edler and J. Tyler Holck, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc.