Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Don't overlook water quality and quantity!

Kari Lewis
Of all the nutrients livestock require, what is the most important, but often an overlooked nutrient? 
Water is the most important nutrient for livestock production.
Photo by Kari Lewis.
Water!  Water needs are influenced by environmental temperature, class of livestock, and weight.  As temperature increases, so do water needs.  Lactating livestock require more water than nonlactating livestock and larger animals require more water as well.

On a day like today when the temperatures hit 90 degrees, a growing animal or lactating cow needs 2 gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight.  So, that 1,400-pound cow will need 28 gallons of water/day, while her 500-pound calf will need 10 gallons, meaning that cow/calf pair needs close to 40 gallons of water today! 
This time of year, water can become stagnant in ponds and reservoirs, providing an ideal environment for the growth of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which can be toxic to livestock.  Symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning are diarrhea, vomiting, lack of coordination, labored breathing, seizures, convulsions, and possibly death.  Other water quality issues can include high or low pH, excessive levels of sulfates which can cause a reduction in copper availability to livestock, hydrogen sulfide, iron, or magnesium which can cause an ‘off flavor’ and reduce water consumption.  Water with high nitrate concentrations can also be toxic, especially if consumed with foraged with high nitrate concentrations. 
Ideal drinking water temperature for livestock is between 40- and 65-degrees F.  In a research study, steers that had access to cool drinking water gained .3 to .4 pounds more per day than those drinking warm water. 
Research has also found that cattle prefer drinking out of a tank versus a pond or reservoir.  This is likely due to clean water from a tank versus the sediment that is churned up when they wade out into the water for a drink.  Research in Alberta showed a 23% increase in weight gains for yearling steers over 71 days whose drinking water was well water versus the steers who drank out of dugout.  A follow up study also confirmed the impact on cows, and a lesser impact on calves. 
If you suspect an issue with water quality, please stop by your local extension office for a water test kit.  Water can be collected and then sent to a lab for analysis.  If your ponds or reservoirs are low, it may be time to consider alternative water sources.  Remember, water is the most important nutrient for livestock production and is needed for regulation of body temperature, growth, digestion, reproduction, metabolism, joint lubrication, excretion, etc.  It’s critical to maintain a clean, fresh water supply to maintain health and performance of livestock. 

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