Water in the pigsties is the final area of innovation we’ve come to, having overlooked it before. Until now, when water pipes were being laid, the main concern was saving water… Trying to keep spillage to a minimum.
In fact, we’ve only been looking properly at improving water quality for the pigs for the last few years now. Just like good feed, good care and a good climate, water is essential for a healthy pig. And that, of course, is our goal – super healthy pigs.
Together with some of the pig farmers in the chain, I set up a water quality network. The group is a sounding board: we use it to identify where the bottlenecks are in terms of water quality, and to search for solutions. We don’t do it on our own – we also consult external experts who have useful knowledge, such as researchers from the Varkens Innovatie Centrum (Swine Innovation Centre).
But we don’t limit ourselves to our own industry. For example, we asked a group of students from Eindhoven to come and look at our pigsties. These were students who had nothing to do with livestock farming. Among them were chemistry and physics students, all of them employing knowledge from their different disciplines to make bottleneck analyses and point us towards possible solutions. It was enormously beneficial. They came up with some futuristic solutions, but also some very practical things the farmers could start working on right away. And they didn’t just focus on new systems for the sties – they suggested other ways of watering the pigs too.
‘It turns out that when piglets drink together, they drink more, and therefore stay healthier’
One idea that came out of a brainstorming session was, rather than let the pigs go and get water on their own, to call them over to it instead. This way, they’d come and drink together in a group. And this simple idea really works. Because when piglets are taken away from their mother, they get a bit upset and generally don’t drink as much. And drinking less is not good for their health. Just like people, pigs need sufficient fluids to stay healthy. By calling the piglets to come and drink, you’re creating a situation that mimics their natural behaviour. They go to the drinking area with their brothers and sisters, just as they would have gone to their mother before. And when they drink together, they drink more, and therefore stay healthier.
But you do have to keep the water quality high. In fact, the pigs must have water that you can and would drink yourself. Then you know it’s OK. We’re in the early stages now, but this is a field that’s going to evolve considerably in future. I’m seeing committed farmers picking up ideas from what they’ve heard and discussed in the brainstorming sessions, and going off to work on them independently. They’re fine tuning their own systems as a result of our sessions. Water in the pigsties is the final area of innovation we’ve come to, but we expect great things to emerge from this last piece of the puzzle.