Research project Usefulness of deep groundwater as a water source for pigs


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Sam Millet

Sam Millet

Expert in pig feed and zootechnology


Main research question

Is deep groundwater a conceivable alternative to water from water taken from under the clay layer when it comes to drinking water for animals?

Since 2005, pumping of well water in the province of West Flanders has been restricted to protect the Landenian aquifer, under the Iperian aquitard. This has consequences for local farmers. The Vlaamse Milieu Maatschappij is aiming for a 25% reduction of the permitted quantities in order to get the groundwater in the Sock system in a good quantitative and qualitative condition. This pumping restriction, in some places combined with livestock farm growth, makes livestock farmers seek alternative forms of water supply for their farms. Deep drainage water (from drainage tubes at about 4 m to 8 m below ground level, which is the continuous saturated zone) is a form of phreatic groundwater extraction. In 2010, this water source was put forward by research partner Inagro as a possible 'new' and reliable water source. The question is to what extent there would be (negative) effects, particularly for pigs (sows and piglets), if they were to use this water on a daily basis. The second question is what the underlying reason for any problems might be, and how the water quality can be adjusted.

Research approach

A research team at ILVO and Inagro collected information about the use of well water and problems associated with its use on-farm. A survey was conducted for farmers that recently started with using this water source as drinking water. Of these farms, 10 were selected to test the pig’s performances and disease picture before and after application of water treatment techniques. In parallel, controlled experimental trials with weaned piglets were carried out at ILVO’s experimental farm. In these trials, water parameters such as water hardness and bicarbonates were augmented to more closely match the levels found in well water samples. The effect of these individual parameters on the piglets performance were evaluated. Last, a cost-benefit analysis was performed for use of this deep groundwater and various treatments.


The project results showed that it is certainly possible to use deep-drainage water as drinking water for pigs. Several livestock farmers succeed in using this water source successfully as drinking water. Water treatment is often needed, however, due to the large variation in chemical composition. This requires a farm-specific approach. The researchers also discovered that possible problems with water treatment installations only show up after a water analysis. The conclusion is that water quality needs frequent monitoring, even if a treatment installation is present.


IWT - Instituut voor de aanmoediging door wetenschap en technologie in Vlaanderen