Managing water intake

Hog Drinking Water

Auditing Best Management Practices – Part 8

Submitted by Ken Engele, Prairie Swine Centre

Geneviève Berthiaume, Centre de développement du porc du Québec

In 2017, on-farm best management practices were audited on a total of 24 farms throughout Canada as part of a national project titled From Innovation to Adoption: On-farm Demonstration of Swine Research. This article is part of an eight-part series reporting on these audits. 

Among nutrients, water is required in the greatest amount but quite often receives the least attention. Water intake of finisher pigs has been reported to range up to three times feed intake, depending on body weight and feed intake. However, most ‘water intake’ reported is in the form of water disappearance from drinkers, including water wastage, rather than water actually consumed by pigs. Previous work has shown finishing pigs can waste 25% of water from well-managed nipple drinkers, therefore opportunities exist to reduce wastage when flow rates are adjusted on a regular basis1. Actual on-farm water flow rates and nipple drinker heights were measured on 24 farms across Canada, representing each phase of production from gestation to finishing. Note that not all farms had nipple drinkers installed in each phase of production, for example, some producers solely relied on wet/dry feeders without an additional water source.

Table 1. Water Flow Rate Recommendations

Low (L/min)Target (L/min)High (L/min)Very High (L/min)
Gilt Pen< 0.50.5 – 1.5 1.5 – 2.5 > 2.5 
Gestation< 0.50.5 – 1.5 1.5 – 2.5 > 2.5 
Farrowing< 1.0 1.0 – 2.0 2.0 – 3.0 > 3.0 
Nursery< 0.50.5 – 1.5 1.5 – 2.5 > 2.5 
Finishing< 0.50.5 – 1.5 1.5 – 2.5 > 2.5 

Prairie Swine Centre. 2000.  Pork Production Reference Guide.2

Table 1 outlines water flow parameters showing ranges measured for low, target, high, and very high values.  Recommended flow rates should range between 1.0 to 2.0 L/min and 0.5 to 1.0 L/min for farrowing and all other phases of production respectively, while the target range used in the analysis was expanded from 0.5 to 1.5 L/min for all areas other than farrowing.

Table 2. Measured Water Flow Rates – 24 audited farms

Low (<0.5L/min)Target(0.5 – 1.5 L/min)High(1.5 – 2.5 L/min)Very High (>2.5L/min)
Gilt Pen5.1%33.3%56.4%5.1%

Overall water management within audited farms varies across phase of production (Table 2).  Generally producers do a better job in managing flow rates within Gestation (pens) and Nursery, where approximately 60% of the nipple drinkers measured met the target flow rate.  The challenge is in Finishing, where approximately two-thirds of nipple drinkers provide flow rates in excess of pig’s requirement, with 11% of nipple drinkers being rated very high (>2.5 L/min).


Table 3 represents a hypothetical situation of a 6,000-head finishing barn. In this case, if 100% of the nipple drinkers were adjusted to recommended flow rates (1L/min) water disappearance would be 42,000 L/day for the facility. However, as shown in the example in Table 3, only 29.3% of nipple drinkers would have been optimally adjusted. For this scenario, we can assume that any water disappearance above the rate of 7 L/day could be avoided. Therefore, the daily water disappearance would increase by 70% (or 30,800 L) to reach a total disappearance of 72,800 L/day.  The direct cost of water wastage (30,800 L) associated with manure disposal would translate into approximately $119/day or $41,500 per year if the previous assumptions were met. 

Table 3.  Hypothetical water disappearance measurements

CategoryLowTargetHighVery High
Measured Values**5.4%29.3%54.3%10.9%
Water Flow Rate (L/min)
Number of Pigs324 1,7603,260655
Daily Water Disappearance/Pig (L/pig)771419.25
Total Daily Water Disappearance/Day (L)2,26812,32345,64612,613
Daily Water Wastage (L/pig)00712.25
Total Daily Water Wastage (L)0022,8238,026

** Refers to the percentage of nipple drinkers that were measured in each respective category. A total of 24 farms were measured across Canada.

Calculated Water Disappearance72,849
Target Water Disappearance42,000
Water Wastage30,849
Additional Manure Disposal Cost/Day$119


6,000 head finishing barn

Average daily water consumption per pig – 7L/day

Duration of finishing period – 350 days/year (18 weeks/batch)

Manure application cost – $0.0175/gallon or $0.00385/litre 

The previous example provides potential savings for a hypothetical site; every producer should take the opportunity to assess potential savings related to manure disposal, water use, and pumping costs on a regular basis for their operation.

Properly mounting nipple drinkers can help reduce water wastage.3,4,5  Nipple drinkers mounted at 900should be set to shoulder height, while nipple drinkers mounted at 450should be set to 5cm (2 inches) above the back of the smallest pig in the pen.  It is important to note that mounting nipple drinkers lower than required will increase water wastage. 


Finishing pigs can maintain adequate water intake from a variety of drinker types, however water waste from drinkers can be very different depending on drinker type and management. Research has shown well-managed nipple drinkers can help reduce water waste to the same level as bowl drinkers..1 3  Finally, ensure you regularly check water flow rates, as this will determine time spent at the nipple, water intake and water wastage. Too little is just as costly as too much when it comes to flow rates.  

For Further Reading

1Water Usage and Wastage from Nipple Drinkers 


2Pork Production Reference Guide


3Effects of nipple drinker height and flow rate on water wastage in grower and finisher pigs


4Recommended Flow Rate & Height of Nipple Drinkers


5A Checklist for Water Use