Industry Partners

Prairie Swine Centre is an affiliate of the University of Saskatchewan

Prairie Swine Centre is grateful for the assistance of the George Morris Centre in developing the economics portion of Pork Insight.

Financial support for the Enterprise Model Project and Pork Insight has been provided by:

Author(s): Nyachoti, Martin
Publication Date: January 1, 2002
Reference: Manitoba Pork Council Research News, University of Manitoba
Country: Canada


Water is an important resource in swine production whose quality can significantly impact pig performance and, therefore, profitability of a swine operation. A growing number of pigs are being raised in areas where good quality ground water is unavailable, and therefore surface (dugout) water must be used. This report highlights potential challenges of using of surface water in nursery pig production and some of the procedures available for improving water quality. A summary of the findings of a recent study comparing ground water with surface water and different treatment methods, and the main indicators of water quality is presented. The findings support the use of surface water for commercial nursery pig production and suggest that investing in costly water treatment procedures may not always be justified. Swine producers should first ensure that water quality, and not other factors (e.g. barn environment), is indeed the problem. The following is a summary of the main indicators of water quality and a brief discussion of the available water treatment methods. Water pH ranging from 6.5 to 8.5 is considered acceptable to pigs. A low pH may reduce the effectiveness of medication delivered via water. Water hardness is a measure of the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium salts and is expressed as calcium carbonate. Soft water has no effect on pig performance. However, with hard water the excess calcium might interfere with phosphorous utilization. Water containing soluble salts with less than 1000 ppm is considered safe to pigs. High levels might cause water refusal or mild temporary diarrhea. Contamination of groundwater with nitrates and nitrites mainly occurs through leaching from the soil or through surface water runoff that has been exposed to material with high nitrogen levels. Nitrates are toxic to pigs if water levels exceed 1500 ppm. Nitrites are more toxic and levels should not exceed 10 ppm in water for pigs. Symptoms of nitrate poisoning include: high respiration rate, incidence of diarrhea, reduced feed intake, and increased abortions among pregnant sows. Bacterial contamination of water is viewed as a serious problem relative to the quality of water for both human and livestock use. The level of coliforms (a group of disease-causing bacteria) indicates bacterial contamination of water. A count 1of 5000 total coliforms per 100 milliliters is the maximum allowed in water for pigs, but the type of bacteria present may be more important. Water quality should be checked at least once a year, with a measurement of bacterial (coliform) contamination always included. It is important to note, however, that in some cases measured indicators of water quality do not always mean poor pig performance. Therefore, any decision to install expensive water purification systems can only be justified if pig performance is significantly reduced. Some of the methods available for water treatment include chlorination, coagulation, filtration, and pH adjustment. Of these, chlorination is the most widely utilized within the industry and works best in water with low pH and low levels of contaminants. Installing a water softener offers a simple means to reduce the hardness of the water. Other techniques like ion exchange have limited application in commercial pork production due to cost.

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