Why it pays to conduct regular water-quality checkups

Water is as important for the growth and health of pigs as feed. As such, it makes sense to test a hog unit’s water just as frequently as the feed, according to Jim Kober, DVM, water quality-consultant, Holland, Michigan.

But water testing often doesn’t occur until a problem like reduced pig performance develops. An investment in regular water tests to spot problems early can save time and money for the farm. Kober offers recommendations for the water tests.

Signs of poor water quality

“One thing we see is simply low water flow,” Kober said. “Over time, water flow or pressure may get less. It might be [due to] a coating of rust, or a slimy coat of biofilm. If that stuff is growing in the waterline or rust is accumulating, it’s going to affect water flow and livestock performance. Remember that milk is primarily water, so adequate flow during lactation is critical.”

Another sign of a water problem is scours in weaned pigs. Coliforms growing in water lines can include Escherichia coli and Salmonella bacteria, which infect susceptible neonates and newly weaned pigs.

“I’ve seen nurseries with E. coli scours after weaning, and we find there are actually coliforms in the water,” Kober said.

Other times, the problem isn’t obvious. “If a hog farm is having a problem that doesn’t make sense and they’ve done a lot of diagnostics but can’t get to the bottom of it, water is a good place to look,” he added. “Sometimes the water will taste bad to the animals, or the flow is so bad that it will actually affect animal performance.”

Testing panels

“The water test panel I like to do has 10 or 11 different things, starting with the pH of the water and then micronutrients like calcium, sodium, manganese, magnesium, chloride, fluoride,” Kober explained. “In west Michigan, many of the water samples are quite high in pH, and many samples have high iron levels. That iron will build up in the pipes over time, and the pH will actually negatively affect intake.”

He recommends targeting a water pH level for pigs between 6.5 and 7. Keeping pH below 7 will help reduce bacteria loads while offering the best taste for pigs.

The water test also should be thorough enough to include testing for coliforms.

Kober suggests when collecting water samples to start as close to the well as possible to make sure the water coming into the facility is good quality. Then take another test at the farthest point away from the well to see what happens in between. For a single-site finishing barn, take the sample at the end of the barn. On farrow-to-finish sites, take samples at the end of each stage of production.

Cleaning water lines

If a water test indicates the water flow issue is a biofilm, many products are available to cleanse waterlines, according to Kober. Some products are used when the building or room is empty, while others can be used with animals in the building.

“The first thing is to clean the waterlines,” he said. “If we find out through water tests that there’s an ongoing problem, like iron or sulfates, then we may need to install a system to treat continuously so the water stays good.”

If the water test indicates a problem at the well, the well can be shocked to clean it. But if a well is really bad, Kober said a different long-term solution may be needed.

In the end, the key to handling any water issue is to first do regular tests and know the problems before they become big enough to affect pig production, he added.


Pointers for keeping show pigs healthy

The flourishing show-pig business helps many people learn about pigs or keep a hand in the swine industry. The key to making show pigs enjoyable and successful is producing a pig with excellent health and nutrition, reported Brittney Scales, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service (FSVS).

From the FSVS office in Mexico, Indiana, Scales works with clients ranging from those who are new to show-pig competitions to those who have been doing this as a family for many generations. She offers several pointers for keeping the pigs healthy and giving them the best chance to perform well in the show ring.

Health status concerns

When purchasing a show pig, you should know the vaccine status of the animal. At a minimum, pigs should be vaccinated for circovirus and Mycoplasma, both diseases that cause porcine respiratory disease. Circovirus is particularly troublesome because it is endemic among pigs, meaning that all pigs will get the disease if they are not vaccinated for it.

Scales recommends a vaccine with a two-shot protocol that includes ½ dose of the recommended, labeled vaccine at 3 weeks of age followed by a second ½ dose 3 weeks later.

Show pigs also should be vaccinated for the most common influenza strains in the area. For example, her office offers an autogenous flu vaccine for the local area.

Another disease concern with show pigs is porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), the US hog industry’s most costly respiratory disease.

“If you are getting pigs from more than one farm and commingling them, it is wise to vaccinate them or ask the seller to vaccinate them with a modified-live PRRS vaccine,” Scales said. The pigs should be vaccinated even if the sows received a modified-live vaccine for PRRS.

Other typical health problems in show pigs are worms and mites. “Even if you were told your animals were dewormed, it is never a bad choice to go ahead and deworm them once they arrive at your fam with either injectable ivermectin or SafeGuard® in the feed,” she said. “Mange is also very common in show pigs. If you are concerned about mange, ivermectin is the best choice as it covers internal and external parasites.”

Adequate housing, ventilation

During spring, wide temperature swings can lead to pneumonia when pigs are not housed properly. “I cannot tell you how many calls we get from clients who say their show pigs are coughing,” Scales said. “When you buy these young pigs weighing 50 to 60 pounds, they are prone to pneumonia. The quickest way to knock your show pigs back is allowing them to catch pneumonia by not being in a warm environment.”

Poor ventilation will also lead to pneumonia. A barn or shed must have proper air movement. “If you walk into your barn and it feels stuffy or it is hard to breathe, then you can guarantee it feels the same for your pigs,” she added.

Coughing in pigs can also be caused by roundworm larval migration through the lungs. A virus or bacteria is not always the culprit.

When bedding pigs, be sure to use high-quality shavings. Scales has noticed a skin rash developing on pigs when poor-quality shavings are used.

Common show-pig surgeries

The most common reasons purchased show pigs require surgery are a rectal prolapse and a scirrhous cord. Both procedures require sedation and/or anesthesia and must be performed by a veterinarian.

A rectal prolapse typically is caused by a pig coughing due to a poor environment or straining due to chronic diarrhea. Scales added that it’s important to determine the cause so it can be prevented from happening to other pigs.

Occasionally the prolapse will invert on its own. But Scales recommends opting for surgery in a timely manner before the rectal tissue sits outside the body too long and becomes swollen and necrotic. Veterinarians repair the prolapse with non-absorbable suture material. Scales recommends show pigs keep that suture in throughout the show season.

The other common surgery is the scirrhous cord in barrows. The scirrhous cord is a chronic fibrous enlargement of the cut end of the spermatic cord in the barrow.

“This can cause your barrow to look like there is a hard, firm ball where the testes were located,” Scales said. “This leads to confusion if the animal is truly castrated or if there is an abscess under the skin. It can also be mistaken as an inguinal hernia, better known as intestines coming out of the castration incision site.”

While the surgery is considered cosmetic and not needed for health reasons, it is necessary for show, she added.

Good nutrition

Going hand in hand with good health is good nutrition. Starter feeds for young pigs should contain 20% to 22% protein, and grower feeds should have 17% to 20% protein. Quality nutrition programs for pigs include the amino acid lysine to help build muscle, and also include fat and fiber.

Scales recommends obtaining more information on swine nutrition from a feed mill or feed company representative.

In addition, check with your FSVS veterinarian for any questions regarding show-pig health concerns.