Around weaning both suckling and weaned piglets have a high need for fresh and clean water. Its availability is appreciated by showing a better daily gain and feed intake.
By L.C.M. van Enckevort, Denkavit, the Netherlands
Besides feed, water is one of the most important nutrients for animals. Piglets should almost always have access to water, during lactation as well as after weaning. In the Netherlands for example, it is obligatory for pigs older than two weeks to have access to sufficient and fresh drinking water 24 hours per day. Different experiments have shown that piglets will eat more when they have access to drinking water. How much piglets actually drink depends on different factors, like temperature in the barn, type of feed, accessibility of the drinking nipple / trough, water quality and water yield of the drinking nipple. Denkavit performed several trials to get an indication of the water intake of piglets and the subsequent effect on dry feed intake. This was done both during lactation and the first week after weaning. In the farrowing pen, water was supplied via a drinking nipple or via a drinking cup. After weaning water was supplied via a drinking nipple with drip cup.
The effect of extra water supply on creep feed intake - The first trial was to determine the effect of extra water supply on feed intake of piglets during the suckling period. All litters had a drinking nipple in the farrowing pen. Half of the litters were supplied with extra water via piglet milk-drinking troughs from ca. day six until weaning. In the same period a prestarter (Denkapig Mini Start) was fed. The results (Table 1) show that although the piglets in the group with extra water supply had on average a lower birth weight, the creep feed intake was higher than in the group with only the drinking nipple. Growth of the piglets in the extra water group was also slightly higher, resulting in a 0.4 kg higher weaning weight. It should be noted that these piglets were on average slightly older at weaning. Their water intake via the drinking nipple was not recorded, but the intake through the drinking troughs was on average 1.02 litres water/piglet.
Based on these results, it can be concluded that supplying extra water to suckling piglets results in a higher creep feed intake. This difference can be caused by the easier or better accessibility of water from drinking troughs compared to water from drinking nipples.
Water intake of suckling piglets - The water intake from the drinking could not be determined in this trial, because the nipples were open in both groups. Therefore, a second trial was set up to find out if there is an effect of drinking nipples on water intake via piglet milk-drinking troughs. One group had access to drink water through a trough only, while the other group had both a drinking trough and a drinking nipple in the farrowing pen. With this setup it was possible to get an indication of the total water intake of suckling piglets (Table 2). This trial clearly shows the importance of water intake for suckling piglets. The water intake was on average 1.7 litres per suckling piglet (weaned at 26 days of age). The difference between drinking via a drinking trough only or having a drinking nipple available as well, was very small (1.7 litres vs. 1.5 litres). This indicates that suckling piglets probably drink water easier via a trough than a nipple. In this trial there was no effect on feed intake, which was not expected anyway since both groups had the possibility to drink water from the trough.
The results of both trials show that suckling piglets with access to a nipple and trough had drunk 1 litre/piglet in the first and 1.5 litres/piglet in the second trial. In the second trial the feed intake was also higher (350 vs. 480 g/piglet).
Figure 1 shows the progression of water and feed intake (excluding sow milk) of suckling piglets, in different periods during the suckling period. Both water and feed intake clearly increased during the suckling period. But feed intake increased relatively more than water intake. During a suckling period of 26 days, piglets drink about 85 cc water/day and eat on average 22 grammes feed/day. Feed : water ratio is on average 1:4, which is comparable with the amount of dry matter in sow milk. However, this ratio is higher (1:10) in the beginning of the suckling period, than in the end (ca. 1:2.5).
In a follow-up trial, daily water and feed intake of piglets was determined over the first six days after weaning. At weaning the piglets were on average age 25.2 days old and their average weight was 8.1 kg. Their weight four days after weaning was 8.6 kg and at six days 9.0 kg. Interestingly their daily water intake was much higher than their feed intake while both increased in time.
During the first day after weaning both water and feed intake were low, especially when taking into account that before weaning the intake of sow milk was on average 1 litre/ piglet/ day. When taking into account that sow milk contains about 20% dry matter the intake of fluids just before weaning was ca. 0.8 litre/piglet/day, while the intake of dry matter/piglet/day from the sow milk was 200 g only. The trial showed that it takes three days after weaning to recover feed intake to >200 g/piglet again. On day six after weaning however, feed intake was already more or less five times higher than on the first day after weaning. The first day after weaning piglets preferred to drink (Figure 2). Within four days, the water : feed ratio decreased gradually from 10 to about 3 and stayed at that level.
The trials discussed clearly indicate that both suckling and weaned piglets have a high need for water. The easy availability of fresh water in farrowing pens has a positive effect on the creep feed intake. The first three days after weaning the water intake is preferred (more) than dry feed intake.
Approximately at day 3-4 after weaning the daily water (800 ml) and dry matter intake (200 g) of before weaning is reached again.