Treating pigs with water dosage pumps

Drinking water is used with increasing frequency to administer medications, vaccines, organic acids, and vitamins at many pig farms to insure accurate distribution and reduce heterogeneity in consumption.

Photo courtesy of IFIP-Institut du porch | Water dosage pumps offer many advantages but require careful planning and management.
Photo courtesy of IFIP-Institut du porch | Water dosage pumps offer many advantages but require careful planning and management.

Drinking water is used with increasing frequency to administer medications, vaccines, organic acids, and vitamins at many pig farms to insure accurate distribution and reduce heterogeneity in consumption.

Dosage pumps advantages

To ensure all pigs receive the right amount of a treatment, farmers use drinking water as a means to dose pigs with increasing frequency. Water dosage pumps also reduce labor compared to administering injections per pig. For a long time, water dosage pumps have proved to be flexible and efficient in treating part or all of a pig herd. This method, also circumvents the logistics of producing medicated feeds, which always are at risk of cross contamination in feed plants. 

Before choosing the right dosage pump device, the first step is to understand the water quality, as some water parameters might influence solubility and efficiency of antibiotics and other water soluble ingredients. Low-water quality can have several negative consequences, such as disinfection failure, disease spreading, and biofilm formation in the water system (which, in turn might block water circulation and enhance the chances of disease spreading). 

Water quality

The general recommendation is to analyze water quality once a year at the source point to test microbiological status (coliforms, E.coli, streptococcus), and its physicochemical characteristics: pH, hardness, and concentration of iron, manganese, organic solids and nitrogen. 

These are all very important to insure treatment efficiency. For example, a pH>7.5 favors biofilm formation in the pipes and lowers chlorination efficiency. Iron and manganese excesses diminish chlorine efficiency and reduce some medicines' solubility. And, excesses in calcium (hardness) will lead to therapeutic failure as calcium ions form insoluble complexes with some antibiotics.

As physicochemical parameters are due to the characteristics of the soil and rock through in which water flows before entering the watering system, it is not necessary to analyze those parameters, except when water quality correction is required through acidification or de-ionization.

How to correct water quality

To optimize water antimicrobial treatment through chlorination, pH must be as near as possible to 5, ranging from 4 to 7.2. In addition, chlorine plastic containers must be stored out direct sunlight and the chlorine solution must be changed every 8 to 10 days. Water tank capacity also must be sufficient to insure that contact between chlorine and water is at a minimum 30 minutes. 

The tank must be wide enough to accommodate enough water for half an hour use at the farm. To this end, water intake must be known in advance for all classes of pigs. For example, a nursing sow drinks an average of 20 to 35 liters per day and a gestating sow drinks between 15 and 20 liters per day.

Chlorine dioxide is more efficient for disinfection and biofilm destruction but requires an on-site dioxide generator. Ultra-violet disinfection also is useful but it has no retentivity and it must be associated with chlorine disinfection. Other corrective actions have to be taken to improve physicochemical parameters: filtration (at water entrance, first filter for the biggest impurities, the second between 60 and 80 microns to avoid biofilm making-up), pH correction (acidification or neutralization depending on pH and hardness), de-ironisation, de-manganisation, and others depending on farm specific problems. 

Pressure is another important factor. Any over-pressure will quickly wear out the equipment, whereas under-pressure might induce some leakage at sealing points and junctions. If water comes from a well, pressure might be a little too low. 

In contrast, it might be a little too high when water comes from the general water systems. To adjust pressure and stabilize it, pressurization or under-pressurization devices can be installed after filtration to avoid sand or dust damage.

Handling dosage pumps

Measuring water consumption is key for efficient dosing. To insure that the right amount of medicine reaches the pigs, water counters must be installed on a horizontal tube because when placed vertically, some lose their sensibility. 

Choosing the right dosage pump is connected to usage as different commercial models suit specific building configurations, pig water consumption and the solubility or aggressiveness of the dosed products.

For pigs, the same pump can be used for all classes of piglets, sows and finishing pigs for a range of water administered products like antibiotics, vaccines and vitamins. It is best for the dosage pumps to be installed near a laboratory to facilitate the preparation of solutions and cleaning, and also placed at human level to facilitate reading of counters and maintenance, and always after a check valve (non-return valve). 

Calculating the right dosage 

To adjust the requested dosing rate, the flow rate must be established. This is expressed as “max flow per hour”. For example, in a post-weaning room with 10 drinking outlets set to 1 liter per minute, max flow per hour is calculated with ¾ of the outlets operating at any given moment (very unlikely that all will be used at the same moment). So 10*1 (liter/minute)*60 (minutes)*0.75 (3/4 water outlets used at the same time) = 450 l/hour. In a finishing room with 14 outlets set at 1 l/min, the flow max per hour is: 14*1*60*0.75=630 l/hour. 

Dosage pump flow max per hour must be included in the flow range recommended by the supplier. Dosage range is the volume of solution that a pump will add to each 100 liters of water. One can find ranges from 0.1 percent to 10 percent, from 1 percent to 5 percent, and from 2 percent to 10 percent, for example. When a treatment compound is not very soluble, it must be diluted beforehand.

Hydraulic and electrical pumps

Hydraulic pumps are directly placed on the tube and use water flow pressure as the moving force. Dosage adjustment must be done by adjusting the pressure. For maintenance, always rinse with clear water after every use and replace joints and sealing rubber on an annual basis. 

Electrical pumps must be seated near an electrical socket and not placed directly in the water circuit. A volume counter measures water quantity flowing through the water tube, and for every 0.5 liter of water, it gives an impulsion to the pump for it to receive the right volume of stock solution. It’s recommended to flush out the system after a specific treatment’s end, and to frequently check the shape of valves and membranes. A reliable counter also is a must for an efficient pig dosing system.

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