Can water disappearance be an accurate predictor of pig performance and health?

University of Nebraska extension swine specialist Mike Brumm believes that it can.

“With the advent of all‑in/all‑out pig flows, the swine industry has made great progress at determining overall performance and cost of this performance for nursery, finisher and wean‑to‑finish facilities,” says Brumm. “However, closeout summaries provide a look at what was – things such as daily gain, feed conversion, cost of gain and others – following sale of the last pig from a group. What’s missing is a monitor on the biological process of growth during the growth period.”


Monitoring and charting water disappearance can be used to predict performance and health of pigs.

Brumm says that there have been several attempts to monitor the growth process. “Many production companies and producers utilize feed budgets based on projected growth. These budgets are based on previous histories of groups of pigs in similar facilities and are often corrected for season of the year. Producers using these budgets to monitor growth compare feed deliveries against projected deliveries, both for dates delivered and amounts delivered.”

Feed budgets
The challenge of using feed budgets, according to Brumm,  is that producers usually are using
6- to 12-ton estimates of feed disappearance. “Early on during the growth process, when feed intake is relatively low, it may take upwards of two weeks for a group of pigs to consume one delivery of feed. As pigs approach market weight, feed deliveries become more frequent, enabling closer monitoring of the process versus projections.”

Feed deliveries to the bulk bin are at best only a crude indicator of intake patterns because of unknowns, such as whether there were disruptions to feed delivery in the facility due to bridging or equipment malfunctions and whether the bulk bin was empty for a period of time (two hours to two days) prior to delivery of the feed, says Brumm.

“In most facilities, a better predictor and monitor of performance is water disappearance,” Brumm says. “While feed intake is dependent on feed being delivered to the feeder and the feeder dispensing feed, water is generally under the direct control of the pigs in the facility, assuming drinker devices are
maintained in working condition in each pen.”

Monitoring water
While it is more difficult to monitor feed disappearance on a daily basis, Brumm says it is  relatively easy to monitor water disappearance daily. “All that is required is a water meter installed in the drinking water line. It is important that this meter not include water used for summer cooling or cleaning activities, as these uses of water are not under the direct control of the pigs in the facility.”

Brumm cites a real-world example that showed where monitored water disappearance plotted on a daily basis clearly indicated a diagnosed swine influenza (SIV) outbreak in a pork production system. (See graphic.)

“On this farm, the pigs were diagnosed as ill and medicated beginning on day four to five following the recorded and plotted downturn in water disappearance. Had the data been more readily utilized by the producer and the pig care givers, it is possible that the pigs would have been recognized as being ill on day two to three.”

Brumm explains that in this instance, water was recorded by an automatic recording system (Building Management Services, Fremont, Neb.), with the data available to authorized users via the Internet on a daily basis.


These four graphs show plots of daily water disappearance from four finishing barns. Circled on the plots is the pattern of water disappearance during a swine flu outbreak.

“This type of recording scheme allows field staff, supervisors, consultants and others  access to the data regardless of their location relative to the facility. The limit to this system is that the data is currently available for display on authorized users’ computers, but unless the computer is in the facility, there is no direct linkage of water disappearance data with the caretaker of the pigs.”

While many producers have begun recording daily water meter readings, few have developed methods to display the daily totals in graphic form, according to Brumm. “It is my experience that unless the data is displayed in graphic form, daily care givers in production facilities don’t readily think about changes in intake patterns. However, once displayed in graphic form, care givers – either owners, contract growers or employees – can readily visualize changes in disappearance.”

To meet this need, Brumm says a spreadsheet has been developed to create barn sheets for recording and displaying in a graphic format daily water disappearance. The spreadsheet may be downloaded free of charge from the Internet at the Nebraska Pork Central’s Web site:


Swine expert Mike Brumm suggests that clients should pay closer attention to pig health and behavior any time there are three days of decreased water disappearance in a row or a 30 percent to 40 percent decline in water disappearance from day to day.

As a general starting point, Brumm suggests that producer clients who decide to chart daily water disappearance should pay closer attention to pig health and behavior any time there are three days of decreased water disappearance in a row or a 30 percent to 40 percent decline in water disappearance from day to day.

He emphasizes that at this point, these guides are only a starting point for using water disappearance to monitor relative pig health and performance. “As more producers and care givers gain experience in monitoring water disappearance and relate patterns to a variety of conditions, including season of the year and changes in climatic conditions, it is possible that at specific sites other patterns may emerge as critical predictors of pig performance and health.”

Brumm also points out that the spreadsheet is not meant to replace the automatic data recording and summary and Internet access and display by firms that some producers utilize.

“A limitation of daily charting in a facility is that advisors to the facility don’t have access to the information unless they visit the facility or unless a method is devised for data sharing,” he concludes. “Thus, automatic recording systems will continue to develop in conjunction with in‑barn graphic display methods.”   

Editor’s note: This information was obtained from a presentation at last summer’s University of Nebraska George A. Young Swine Conference in South Sioux City, Neb.