Although livestock may drink less water in the winter, clean, good quality water is still a basic need. Ted Wiseman, Extension Educator in Perry County, recently wrote an excellent article about winter water needs of livestock that appeared in the on-line edition of the OSU Extension Beef Cattle Letter. I’m using the major portion of that Wiseman article in today’s column.
Water is essential for all livestock regardless of the time of year. So far this year we have certainly had our share of chopping ice, thawing water lines and troughs. With recent temperatures, many of us often focus on keeping livestock well fed and provided with adequate shelter. We may forget about the most important nutrient, which is water. Water consumed by livestock is required for a variety of physiological functions. Some of these include proper digestion, nutrient transportation, enzymatic and chemical reactions, and regulation of body temperature.
Although water is the cheapest nutrient we may purchase or provide, it is the one we provide the most of on a per pound basis. For every pound of dry matter consumed, cattle will need to drink about seven pounds of water. Consumption of water varies depending upon temperature, size of the animal, feed intake, mineral intake and stage of production. Lack of water consumption will affect animal performance. During colder temperatures, feed intake increases to generate body heat. Decreased water availability reduces feed intake, which results in decreased body condition. Decreased water intake will also lead to poor fetal growth rates and lactation levels.
To ensure adequate water intake, reports have indicated that water temperature should be 37 to 65 degrees. The rumen operates at 101-102 degrees; ingesting extremely cold water can decrease digestion until the water warms to body temperature. Be sure to monitor waterers regularly, for temperature and cleanliness. Stray voltage is another potential issue. Monitor new installations as well as established watering devises. An electrical AC current above three to four volts is enough to decrease water intake. Tank heaters are a winter option, but be sure to keep electrical cords away from any contact with livestock.
If given a choice of water sources, cattle do prefer to drink from a tank instead of streams or ponds. Studies I looked at showed cattle preferred to drink from tanks 75 to 90 percent of the time. When cattle drink from a pond or stream, the second cow normally travels farther into the water source for a cleaner drink.
Good quality water is essential for livestock, regardless of the source you have. Water testing on a regular basis is a good idea, but if you notice reduced water intake or refusal, testing is necessary. Water analyses for livestock typically include Total dissolved solids or salinity, pH (acid or alkaline value), Nitrates, Sulfates, and Hardness. Bacteria can be a health concern, especially during summer months and during drought conditions. If you plan to test your water, consult your water-testing lab for proper water sample collecting procedures.