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Piglet water intake has a great impact on feed conversion, daily gain and health.
on April 12, 2012
Pig Health

Pig water intake plays key role in health, performance

Adding organic acids to water reduces the risk of post-weaning diarrhea syndrome in piglets.


Pig water intake is still a much underestimated parameter when it comes to its influence on piglet production and health. Increasing the quality of drinking water should be a standard operation on a farm to improve livestock health and performance.

One thing pig farmers all over the world have in common is the determination to build a profitable business out of their pig production, but to achieve that goal the performance level of the pigs at every stage (sows, piglets, growers and finishers) is crucial. A combination of different parameters determines the correct level of performance (housing, feed, management and biosecurity), but the No. 1 priority is health.

Pig water intake 
A farmer will know exactly how much feed his animals take in per day, but sometimes has little knowledge about the daily water consumption of his pigs. A suckling piglet can drink up to 1 liter a day and finishers need 2-3 liters of water per day to take in 1kg of feed.

It’s very clear that water is a nutrient and has a great impact on feed conversion, daily gain and health. It will not only reduce the bacterial load in the water, but also improves digestibility and absorption of nutrients in the digestive tract of the pigs.

Compared with feed, which usually has a high buffering capacity due to protein sources and minerals, water has a small buffering effect. The only parameter which can have an effect is the hardness of water. When applying single acids in drinking water, the pH decreases quickly and if the dosage is too high, the pH can fall too low, with negative results (less water intake, decreased performance). Therefore, a mix of organic acids is needed to acidify the drinking water because these organic acids have a buffering effect that makes the pH decrease slowly.

A synergistic mix of organic acids has also a greater antibacterial effect, is more tasteful, and is less corrosive when compared with single acids. 
 Organic acids have their own pKa-value. The pKa value equals to the pH value at which 50% of the organic acid is dissociated and 50% undissociated. If the pH is lower than the pKa value, then the undissociated form will be dominant (= the desired effect).
The right combination of acids with different pKa values results in a synergistic product that always provides undissociated molecules, even at a higher pH.

The undissociated form of the organic acids is able to penetrate the cell wall of the pathogenic bacteria (See Table 1). Inside the cell, the organic acids will dissociate and disturb the electron balance of the cell which will use all of its energy to try to remove the H+ proton, which eventually leads to the death of the cell.

Piglet weaning weights
 The farrowing house is the heart and engine of a pig farm and what comes out of it will determine the profitability of the farm. The weight at weaning is a crucial parameter. Heavier piglets will result in healthier animals that are less susceptive to disease like diarrhea and are ready for slaughter two to four weeks earlier than piglets weaned at lighter weights. The live weight that is lost at weaning can never be made up in a later phase. While a high number of weaned piglets are important, the quality of the piglets will have a much bigger impact on profitability of the farm.

In a field trial on a sow farm in Belgium, a group of 74 sows to farrow was divided in two groups. The health status was the same, as was the parity spread within the groups. The piglets in the farrowing house were suffering from E. coli diarrhea. The control group (n = 36 sows + piglets) was given untreated water that had a pH of 8.7. The test group (n = 38 sows + piglets) received water treated with an organic acid, with the addition of Cu and Zn (Agrocid Super oligo). The water of the test group was lowered to a pH of 5,5.

The effect on bacteriologic results of the water was compared, as were the litter weights at weaning. The average total bacteria count at 37°C was reduced by 2,75 in the drinking water treated with Agrodic Super Oligo compared with untreated city water. This difference was found to be statistically significant (t-test: p-value < 0,05). The average piglet weaning weight of the control group at 19 days was 5 kg. (See Table 2). The average piglet weaning weight at 19 days of the test group was 5.94 kg (See Table 3). 


This treatment of the drinking water also resulted in better bacteriologic results, by reducing the level of bacteria growth in the water system. Furthermore, the difference in weaning weight between the two groups in the trial, respectively, 5kg and 5.94kg was statistically significant (t-test: p-value = 0,05). The superior gut health of the group treated with organic acids resulted in higher water consumption; a higher creep feed intake and a diarrhea preventive action, as well as better growth and weaning weights.

Piglet weaning diarrhea
 At weaning a pig is probably at its most vulnerable. All kinds of stress, including deprivation of milk, regrouping, feed change and new housing, have a significant effect on feed intake and gastro intestinal tract development. The morphology of the piglet's gastro-intestinal epithelia drastically changes at weaning. Villous height decreases and crypt depth increases; these changes appear to be induced by weaning and not by the creep feed offered at weaning.

A major cause of post-weaning disorders is caused by the weaned piglet’s lack of sufficient capacity to acidify its own stomach content by hydrochloric acid. Thus, the pH value in the stomach may stay at 4-5 for at least two hours after feeding, leading to suboptimal protein digestion and insufficient killing of microbes by low pH value.

During this period, more than half of the dry matter has already been transferred from the gastric lumen to the duodenum; the resulting poor digestion and high bacteria count can easily lead to weaning diarrhea. Organic acids can added to the drinking water with a dosing pump to reach the optimal pH. This increases the speed at which the stomach contents reach the optimal pH value, where the proteolytic enzyme pepsin has its optimum efficacy. Acidification also leads to lower gastric emptying, which further contributes to an optimal digestion process.

These mechanisms have all been shown to support the piglets in the stressful post-weaning period and to reduce the risk of the post-weaning diarrhea syndrome. 

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