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Cheers! – sows drink more in free-style pens

Comparisons of water consumption by sows in freedom-style farrowing pens with sows in conventional crates have highlighted some significant differences. Sows in free-style farrowing pens are normally provided with water bowls whereas sows in crates tend to have nipple or bite-type drinkers.

“We have been monitoring sows’ drinking habits in both systems on several farms and have been amazed at what we have found. Sows in crates are drinking, at their peak, up to 25 litres per day compared with up to 35-40 litres per day in the free-style pens – a difference of 15-20 litres per day at that stage of suckling,” said Tim Miller, an environmental specialist with ARM Buildings.

The company provides a monitoring facility with all the houses it supplies and without this factual information farmers probably would be unaware of this difference, he points out.

“These figures raise many questions, such as are the sows in crates getting enough to drink or are the sows with water-bowls wasting water? “Obviously, today’s sows with large litters need more water for milk production – but how much more?” queried Tim.

He suggests another factor is that in the freedom-style pens the piglets can drink from mum’s bowl.  If this is a significant amount, then he questions whether it will increase weaning weights.

“Our graphs show little difference in consumption in the early days after farrowing, but the sows with bowls tend to pull away in the latter stages,” he said.

He points out that bowls can be, and are, used in conventional systems and bite/nipple drinkers in freedom pens, but bowls are normally the choice in freedom pens.  Large intakes could be due to sows finding bowls easier to drink from, while high intakes can take longer from other types of drinkers. He suggests that more applied research needs to be done in this area since height and positioning can also have a bearing.