Back to Basics: Air, Water, and Feed

Jon_DeJong_ resizedMy wife and I recently watched my brother’s two children one of whom isn’t quite talking. In the middle of an atypically long crying session my wife and I were reminded of when our two oldest were newborns. We started scrolling through the mental rolodex of what could possibly be wrong: was he hungry, tired, sleepy, didn’t like my ugly bearded face? Maybe all of the above? We were both reminded very quickly that when our immediate and basic needs/instincts aren’t met, we aren’t very happy.

This is a concept I learned very quickly walking pig barns with my dad and was more recently reminded by a grey haired field person on our staff. He pushed me to remember the rule of 3. Pigs have 3 basic needs: feed, water, and air, they can survive without air for 3 minutes, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without feed. Those figures might not be exact science, but I think they tell a very concise and compelling story. When you walk into a barn for the first or 1000th time you need to check 3 things, and in this order, air, water, feed.


The most essential ingredient to keeping pigs alive, a simple controller check before you walk into the barn can tell a lot. What is the temperature, is it over set point, are fans running, are curtains down, heaters running, inlets open? However, it’s one thing to see information on a controller, its another to walk into a room and verify. Go through the list of ventilation components and ensure all that should be on is on and all that should be off is off. The first 2 steps into a barn and the air you breath in will tell you as much as the next hour you spend there. Is the air moist, stale, cold, hot, and what is the level of ammonia? Answer those quick questions and you’ll get a long way down the road to keeping the pig in the right environment. If it’s not comfortable for you it’s probably not comfortable for the pig.


Second on the list but just as important as air is water. Without water, the pigs won’t eat, and without feed the pig won’t grow. Again, a lot can be examined before you even enter the barn. Check the water line to see if water is running, if recorded, double check the water usage the last few days. Water usage is an easy first indicator of the health of the pigs and can be an early tip off to a grower of sick pigs. In addition, water availability has become more important as the industry has shifted towards a wet/dry feeder as opposed to dry or tube feeders. The wet/dry feeder allows for more pigs/feeder space however we haven’t always added additional water nipples for those pigs. We typically target 20 pigs/nipple; however, I see a lot of 100 hd pens with a 4-hole wet/dry feeder. This setup allows for 12.5 pigs/feeder hole which is fine from a feed and feeder standpoint, but if no supplemental waterers are present you are left with 25 pigs/water nipple which is cutting it close especially in the summer months in barns with big pigs.


Last on the list to check but sometimes the hardest to get right is feed. I had a mentor tell me once, “we formulate with a thimble, mix feed with a grain scoop, and deliver it with a semi”. Not that any one of the steps is less or more important but we all need to realize the scale at which feed is formulated, manufactured and delivered to the farm. A colleague of mine told me that in a perfect world the right feed, is delivered to the right pig, on the right day, but an acceptable reality is sometimes that all pigs simply have feed in front of them. So, as your check barns that’s a good place to start, do pigs have feed in front of them, in the feedline, and in the feed bin? The process to get air and water to the farm are pretty simple and there is only 1 form of each, but getting feed to the pig is much more complicated and spans across multiple entities from the person ordering the feed, to the truck driver, mill operator, procurement director, ingredient blender and ultimately the nutritionist. Though not simple, if there is transparency and trust across the units getting the right feed the right pig on the right day might just be doable.

Jon DeJong
Pipestone Nutrition