20 November 1998

Trial shows piglets like water-beds – and thrive on them

New technology for livestock

producers is the focus of the

EurtoTier event in Germany.

Philip Clarke reports

WATER-BEDS have always carried a certain appeal, and not just for humans.

Research at the University of Giessen in Germany has revealed a strong preference in piglets for water-filled matresses, leading to increased weight gain and reduced health problems.

"The first few days have a big influence on piglets development," said researcher Steffen Hoy at last weeks EuroTier event. "It is crucial to give them a good start in life."

The experiments, over the past 18 months, have involved about 1000 piglets, comparing water-beds with a range of more conventional bedding materials. As well as regular weighing and health checks on each piglet, video technology was used to assess their preferences between different materials.

One test compared a warm water-bed, with a micro-cellular foam mat and an overhead gas infrared heater. More than half the piglets chose to lie on the water-beds for up to 70% of the time between the third and fifth day of age. And while that diminished as piglets got older, by day 17 more than half were still lying on water-beds for 60% of the time.

"In effect, we asked the piglets themselves what they liked to lie on and they gave us a clear answer. They wanted the water-beds," said Dr Hoy.

More significantly, daily liveweight gain was much improved. At weaning, piglets on water-beds were an average 430g heavier than the other systems, enjoying a 16g a day growth advantage.

Analysis of the forelegs also showed a fall in skin lesions, with piglets on water-beds having half the number of those on a concrete floor. Lesions had a significant influence on liveweight gain up to weaning, said the researchers.

The water-beds are now available commercially from German manufacturer MIK. The standard version measures 120cm by 60cm (4ftx2ft) and is made of a synthetic material. Filled with 15 litres of water, the matress is then laid on underfloor heating plates installed in the farrowing pen.

But there are 12 variations, including one with black surface material, designed to absorb infrared rays from an overhead heating lamp. The beds are retailing in Germany for between £32 and £53.

Heating system No of piglets Liveweight (kg) Day 28 (kg) Daily gain (g)

at birth

Warm water-bed 303 1.51 7.90 228

Micro-cellular mat 211 1.59 7.68 218

Thermoplastic plate 259 1.55 7.72 220

Concrete floor 246 1.53 7.09 199

Water-bed performance