Bulletin #1122, Watering Tips for Swine

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Colt W. Knight, Ph.D., Assistant Extension Professor and State Livestock Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Reviewed by Ashley Wright, MS, Area Associate Agent, Livestock for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

For information about UMaine Extension programs and resources, visit extension.umaine.edu.
Find more of our publications and books at extension.umaine.edu/publications/.


pig next to a mud puddle

Watering pigs can be quite a chore. In the summer, pigs love to wallow and play in their water. In the wintertime, farmers often fight the brutal cold to keep water from freezing or becoming buried in snow and ice. Regardless of the weather, pigs need a steady supply of fresh clean water. Water is the most important nutrient. For example, newborn piglets are comprised of 82% water and approximately 51% as they near finishing weight.1 Water serves to provide structure to the body, regulates temperature, serves as a medium to move nutrients throughout the body and even provides lubrication to joints.Most swine feed contains between 10-12% water.3 Water intake is positively correlated with feed intake. Restricting water intake will cause the animal to reduce feed intake. If a pig drinks less, they will eat less which means their performance will suffer. They will grow slower and have a poorer feed conversion.4 Reproduction may suffer, and the animals are more prone to becoming stressed or sickly.

sow nursing pigletsHow much water does my pig need?

Pigs need water for growth, reproduction and lactation. They acquire water through feed, metabolic processes in the body and drinking water. Water is then lost from the body through urination, defecation, respiration and some evaporation.2 Generally speaking, water:feed ratios decrease as pigs get older. For example, 40-55 lbs pigs have 3.35:1 water:feed ratio, whereas, 209 lbs pigs range from 2.3:1 to 2.6:1.1  The following chart shows average water intake for different classes of pigs in commercial pig facilities.2

Class of PigGallons/head/day
Nursery (<60 lbs)0.7 – 1
Grower (60-100 lbs)2 – 3
Finisher (100-250 lbs)3 – 5
Non-pregnant gilt3
Gestating Sow3 – 6
Lactating Sow3 – 7

However, hogs on pasture may consume 6-8 gallons/head/day or 8-12 gallons/head/day on hot days.5

Watering pigs in a backyard or pasture setting

pig drinking water from a tank outdoors

Utilizing a short stock tank is often a great solution for pigs with access to an outside paddock or pasture. Pigs love to play in the water to keep cool in the summer, and the short stock tanks are easily dumped out to clean. You may find in the summer, pigs keep their barn and sleeping area nice and clean. However, when the winter weather sets in, pigs don’t like to go outside as much, and may start using the bathroom inside. Watering and feeding pigs outside is a great way to encourage the pigs to urinate and defecate outside. Once the temperature drops below freezing, stock tanks can ice over quickly and restrict access for the animals. Before it gets too cold, placing floating objects in the water trough may help prevent ice over, but once it gets real cold there are only two real solutions. The first solution is to mechanically break and remove the ice. This becomes labor intensive and ice will begin to pile up over the winter. The second is adding a stock tank heater if you have electricity available. This will keep the water trough from completely icing over, and you do not have to deal with ice.

If you keep your pigs indoors or have a small paddock, open stock tanks generally create a very wet area for the pigs to live in. Utilizing a container or barrel fitted with water nipples will allow you to keep the water cleaner and the pig area drier. Commercial swine facilities generally utilize hog nipple drinkers with pressurized water pipes to eliminate having to store large quantities of water. However, the backyard or pastured swine producer rarely has access to climate-controlled facilities to keep the pipes from freezing and bursting in the winter, so they will generally use large poly tanks to store and deliver water to pigs. In the wintertime, these tanks can be heated or insulated to prevent freezing. Ideally, pig water nipples should vary in height from the ground depending on age of the animal for maximum comfort. Please consult the chart below.4

Class of PigHeight, inches
<12 lbs4-6
12-30 lbs6-12
30-75 lbs12-18
75-150 lbs18-24
150-240 lbs24-30
Sows and Boars30-36
Lactating Sows30-36

The following video illustrates some winter watering tips for swine, as well as, how to construct a heated pig drinker with nipples.

VIDEO: UMaine Extension Winter Watering Tips for Swine

Important notes

Water nipples have plastic water flow adjustments built into the mechanism. They need to either be set for maximum flow or drilled out to allow water to flow more freely when used on non-pressurized water systems. Caretakers should check water nipple function daily to ensure they are not clogged or restricted. Just because the water reservoir is full does not mean that the nipples are allowing water to flow out to the pigs.

1Brumm, M. C. 2019. Water Systems for Swine. University of Nebraska. https://swine.extension.org/water-systems-for-swine/

2Guthrie, T. 2011. Water Needs of Pigs. Michigan State University. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/water_needs_of_pigs.

3National Research Council. 1998. Nutrient Requirements of Swine: 10th Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/6016.

4Harmon, J. and V. Meyer. 2008. Nipple Waterers for Swine. https://store.extension.iastate.edu/product/Nipple-Waterers-for-Swine

5Penn State Extension. 2019. How Will I Get Water to Hogs on Pasture? Swine Production and Management Home Study Course. https://extension.psu.edu/programs/courses/swine/nutrition/forages-for-swine/how-will-i-get-water-to-hogs-on-pasture.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2022

Call 800.287.0274 (in Maine), or 207.581.3188, for information on publications and program offerings from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, or visit extension.umaine.edu.

In complying with the letter and spirit of applicable laws and pursuing its own goals of diversity, the University of Maine System does not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, transgender status, gender, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship status, familial status, ancestry, age, disability physical or mental, genetic information, or veterans or military status in employment, education, and all other programs and activities. The University provides reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities upon request. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Director of Equal Opportunity, 5713 Chadbourne Hall, Room 412, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5713, 207.581.1226, TTY 711 (Maine Relay System).