Last year, after Bill Gray and his family built a new finishing barn at their Hamilton, Ill., hog operation, they soon noticed a difference in how the pigs used the waterers. Gray noticed less water appearing on the slats and walls than in the older barns.

"In the new barn, you could see the pigs drinking the water, not playing with it," says Gray, who owns the operation with his wife, Elaine, and son Cary.

The thought of wasting water and trips to the field with manure prompted Gray to invest $60 in a water meter to see how water volumes compared between the cups and the swinging nipple waterers. To per-form the test, which Gray quickly points out is not scientific, he adapted a section of garden hose, which made it easy to move the meter from building to building. He attached the hose ends to valves in the water lines used to infuse medication.

Twenty-four-hour measurements taken in two naturally ventilated finishing barns last fall confirmed what Gray suspected. Water volume with swinging nipple waterers was 1.85 gallons per pig per day vs. the cup waterers at 1.02 gallons. Pigs were similarly sized, between 180 to 200 pounds, and measurements were taken on consecutive days with similar environmental conditions. While pigs drink less when they're smaller, and more as they reach market weight, Gray felt this weight represented a reasonable middle weight for calculation purposes.

Here's a closer look:

  • Barn 1: 500-head capacity, two stainless-steel cup waterers per 42 head, daily water consumption was 1.02 gallons per pig.
  • Barn 2: 560-head capacity, one swinging waterer with two nipples per 35 head, daily water consumption equalled 1.85 gallons per pig.

    While 0.8 of a gallon per pig per day doesn't sound like much, Gray says the savings in manure handling make it worth the 50 percent added investment for the cup waterers. He figures the waterers save the operation's 4,250-gallon tank manure wagon about 32 trips to the field a year, which equals 131,080 gallons. He calculates the savings at about 90 cents per pig annually.