Common sense tells us that providing clean drinking water for your cattle is important. Poor water quality and access can have a negative impact on cattle health and performance. So, what are some of the key points to remember? Dr. Ken McMillian of DTNPF and Amanda Radke of Beef Magazine provide some insight.
First, you need to make sure that your water source is good, and not contaminated with bacteria or parasites. There are several precautions that can be taken to prevent contamination. Second, make sure you’re providing enough drinking water. Different cows have different hydration needs at different times throughout the year. Third, ensure that all of your herd is able to easily access the supply.
1. Is Your Water Source Contaminated?
If the main source of water for your cattle is a pond, there are many things that you’ll want to keep an eye on. If not managed properly, cattle can reduce a pond’s water capacity and quality. If cattle have unlimited access to the pond, they will likely be standing in it at times, and also eliminating in it. This can lead to an outbreak of leptospirosis and even liver flukes. The wet ground surrounding the pond has the potential to cause foot rot. It also can be a source of coccidia and intestinal worms. Snake bites can also be more likely around ponds where cattle have unlimited access.
To help prevent some of the contamination, there are several options. If possible, fence off the pond entirely. Gravity feed the water to a trough below. Or, pump the water to a trough. If neither of those options are possible or practical, limit access to the pond in a small area only.
Another common problem with pond water is algae. Most are not toxic, but blue-green algae can be extremely harmful and even deadly for livestock. It’s usually a blue-green scum that appears at or near the water’s surface. It can grow any place there’s stagnant water- which includes ponds, tanks and troughs. It’s also known as cyanobacteria. It’s technically not an algae, but a bacteria that contains chlorophyll. Some of them produce neurotoxins that cause muscle tremors, difficulty breathing, seizures, slobbering, diarrhea and death. Some can cause a buildup of hepatotoxins, which may lead to liver failure.
A lot of things can go wrong with your water supply, but knowing what to look for and how to prevent contamination is a good first step.
2. Are You Providing Enough Water?
Once you are doing all you can to provide a clean supply of water for your cattle, the second step is providing enough of it. The amount of water a particular cow needs depends on different factors. The outdoor temperature, lactation status, and weight all play a role in determining water requirements. It’s necessary for cattle to regulate body temperature, digest food, absorb nutrients, remove waste, and is essential for proper fetal growth and lactation.
During a hot summer afternoon, a lactating cow needs 2 gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight. That 1,300 pound cow would require 26 gallons of water a day, plus 5 to 10 gallons for the calf. Non-lactating cows and bulls require 1 gallon of water a day per 100 pounds of body weight.
3. Are You Providing Proper Access?
If you’re providing enough water, how can you ensure that you’re allowing proper access to it? A general rule for large pastures is to have a tank or drinking area that is large enough to accommodate 10% of your herd. For each animal, you should allow 12 inches of perimeter space for circular tanks and 18 inches for straight sided tanks.
Adding a tank only for calves is also a good idea. Calves can’t always reach the water in traditional tanks, and many producers don’t think to accommodate them. A tank set to the side but filled with the overflow from the cow tank will allow them to drink at the same time as the cows.
If you’re looking to improve the water supply for your cattle herd, follow our 3 steps. Check for contamination and try to prevent it if you can, provide enough water for your cattle to drink, and make sure you are providing adequate access to it.
Image courtesy of Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service