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Vet Column

David L. Morris, DVM, Ph.D.
Fort Collins, Colo.

As weaning age in pigs progressed to younger and younger ages on commercial swine operations, the opportunity for newly weaned piglets to adjust to feed and water sources became increasingly important. The first two days after weaning, particularly in young piglets, is critical for their adjustment to a nursery setting. Producers and veterinarians recognized that behavioral problems such as excessive drinking and belly nosing increased as compared to older weaned piglets. As a result, the question of drinker type differences and their effects on post-weaning adjustment surfaced.

Investigators from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the University of Guelph, with support from the U.S. National Pork Board, recently published data assessing the impact of drinker types on the first two days post-weaning of young piglets. Previous studies had indicated that recently weaned piglets given access to push-lever bowls (bowl drinkers) as compared to nipple drinkers had less belly nosing, spent less time at the drinker, and had greater feed intake in the first two days after weaning. For this study, the investigators compared three additional types of drinking devices for recently weaned piglets.

For this study, water intake was measured rather than water use. The three types of drinkers compared were a bite-style nipple drinker, a stainless steel bowl with a push-lever, and a plastic automatic float-bowl drinker in which a float determined the amount of water present. To avoid the impact of drinker types available to sows in the farrowing crate, piglets were not provided access to any type of drinking device while in the crate. All piglets were weaned at 18 days-of-age and 270 Yorkshire barrows and gilts were grouped by 15 for each of 18 experimental nursery pens.

Kinematic studies in pigs indicate that the major muscle movements from drinking from a bowl are similar to those from suckling on a teat. Since this type of device decreased the amount of belly nosing behavior (a behavior considered analogous to sucking), it is hypothesized that using a push-lever bowl accommodated the piglets’ suckling motivation by providing either tactile stimulation on the snout by the surface of the drinker, or the oro-pharyngeal stimulation through he act of sucking water from a vessel. Comparing a push-lever bowl drinker, which would involve snout and swallowing reflexes, with a float-valve bowl drinker should provide evidence as to the importance of tactile use of the snout with the oro-pharyngeal reflex.

Results from this study indicate that piglets with push-lever bowls spent less time at the feeder than the other piglets, but no difference in feed intake or average daily gain could be noted. Piglets with the push-lever bowl spent less time belly nosing than piglets using the float-bowl drinker.

Given a nipple drinker, piglets will waste more water than with a bowl drinker. Float-bowl drinkers can reduce waste, but must be managed to avoid “dirty” water accumulation which may then decrease water intake. Push-lever bowl drinkers result in minimal water waste, while not affecting water intake, feed intake, or post-weaning growth.