NHF: Unknowns remain about water quality impact on pig performance

Our monthly collaboration with the National Hog Farmer continues; this month Drs. Johnston, Shurston, Lozinski, and  Urriola from the College of Extension and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural resources Sciences explain why there is much left to research on water quality.

Non-thriving pigs in the nursery are a concern among swine producers. Pigs are eating less, they get sick and do not perform well overall.

“Could bad water on the farm be a cause for reduced health and growth performance of these challenged nursery pigs?”

That depends on how bad the water is and how you define bad versus good water. Currently, there is no standard.

Aging literature references

In the scientific literature, the most widely quoted standards for quality of water fed to livestock comes from the U.S. National Research Council (1974) and the Canadian Council of Minister of the Environment (1987 and 2005).

Inconsistent findings in current research

McLeese et al. focused on the total dissolved solids (TDS) content in water. By increasing TDS 20-fold, they noticed that it had no impact on weaned pigs fed a medicated diet whereas it reduced significantly feed efficiency in non-medicated pigs. Several studies showed that pigs scours when drinking water with an increased concentration of sulfate, without necessarily affecting performances.

Another parameter to take into consideration is that some of the barns are getting older and so is the water distribution system. Water pipes and drinkers can impact water quality if they are not properly and regularly cleaned and maintained. However, despite the importance of water distribution systems in hog barns, scientifically-evaluated treatment and procedures are hard to find.

Conclusion

In 1992, McLeese et al. stated, “However, the current literature is neither conclusive nor thorough with respect to the impact of water quality on pig health, welfare and productivity.” It seems we are still in this position in 2018.

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