Water Quality's Effect on Herd Performance

May 29, 2020

Tara Jo Bina
Countryside Feed Nutrition
When asked what are the major nutrients cattle need to be productive, most people’s minds jump to protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. While these are very important nutrients to the success of raising cattle and other livestock, we tend to forget that the number one, most important nutrient is water!
We don’t actually forget about water. We are aware that water is very important to health and performance of cattle. From chopping ice in the winter, to regularly cleaning automatic waterers, making sure cattle have easy access to clean water is a common practice. Availability of clean water shouldn’t necessarily be where our concerns about water quality end though. Just like feedstuffs, water quality can vary greatly depending on where it is sourced. Many producers send forages off for nutrient analyses to gain a better understanding of how much protein, energy, and minerals need to be supplemented because of variability, but we tend to overlook the differences in water quality throughout the year.
Many research studies have shown increased water intake is positively correlated with feed consumption and weight gain. If you have ever had an automatic waterer stop working, you have seen how quickly cattle can let you know there is a problem. Drastic decreases in feed intakes can occur after just a few hours of not having water available. Running out of water is an obvious problem, but water quality problems, such as bacterial contamination, high mineral concentrations, pH, and blue-green algae among other problems can also impact water intake. Even if you maintain clean waterers or think your ponds are not contaminated, testing the water offered to cattle is a great idea to make sure they have access to the highest quality water possible.
You may now be wondering how much water cattle need to maintain adequate production. The amount of water beef cattle require is impacted by weight, stage of production, diet composition, temperature, and water quality among many other variables. The University of Georgia states that at 90? F growing and lactating cattle require 2 pounds of water per 100 pounds of body weight while dry cows and bulls require 1 pound per 100 pounds of body weight. That being said, a 1300-pound lactating beef cow should consume at least 26 pounds or more of water a day in the summertime while a 2000-pound bull needs a minimum of 20 pounds. Some of the water requirements may be obtained through the animal’s diet. Cattle on lush pasture will not need to drink as much as a drylotted animal because of the moisture content of their diets.
The two most common types of watering systems for cattle are:
  1. A trough fed by a well or a spring
  2. An impoundment or pond
A study conducted in Saskatchewan reported a 9-10% increase in weight gain of steers provided aerated water pumped to a trough compared to their contemporaries drinking pond water. This is thought to be a result of better palatability of the aerated water because the analyses of both water sources are very similar.
In the end, it is important to consider the quality of your water throughout the year. Providing waterers as an alternative water source to ponds may also be something worth considering. Contact your Countryside Feed representative to discuss water quality and to potentially assist you with pulling water samples.

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