When folks consider getting livestock, they immediately think of what it will eat. They then think about water for the animals. The concern is usually do they have some. A lot of people don’t think about do they have enough and is it good enough. Unfortunately, we can’t just think, “water is water”.
Water is necessary for regulation of body temperature, growth, reproduction, lactation, digestion, lubrication of joints, eyesight, and as a cleansing agent. Therefore, clean, quality water is essential to good performance. Of course, an animal will drink whatever water is available (if it must) but think about what is in the water. If, for example, the cattle are drinking out of a water hole, they are probably wading in the water hole too. This means they are urinating and defecating in the water too. What do you think that does for water quality? Therefore, a water source that cannot be entered, or at least has limited entry access is more suitable. Also, animals that have access to clean water and “dirty” water will still consume the dirty water.
The next thing to consider is the water composition. Water varies in the amount of dissolved solids, and salts, it contains. Certain levels of solids will cause a decrease in consumption. High enough levels can be toxic to the animals. In addition, levels of certain compounds in the water — though not high enough to be toxic on its own — can be increased to a toxic level when the same compound is present in a feed source. An example being: water high in nitrate level and then feeding some hay that has a high nitrate level. Either one alone may not be a problem but the two together reach a toxic level. Other compounds that affect water quality include microbial population, pH, and pesticides. Therefore, having a sample from the water source analyzed periodically is a good management practice.
Finally, be sure animals have access to adequate amounts of water. A 1200 pound lactating cow in summer will drink 15 to 25 gallons of water per day. In the winter, she will drink from 8 to 12 gallons. Also, if the temperatures have been very cold and then rise, she will increase consumption by 50 to 100%. Bred females and bulls will drink 5 to 8 gallons in the winter and 12 to 20 gallons in the warmer months. Growing cattle will consume about the same amount as bred females and bulls. Sheep and goats will drink 2 or 3 gallons a day and growing lambs and kids .5 to 1.5 gallons a day depending on size. Hogs will drink .5 to 6 gallons per day and horses 5 to 15 gallons per day. These values should be considered when choosing a tank or trough for water. It should be large enough to supply about 25 to 50% of your expected daily needs at one time. Also be sure the flow or supply to the tank is sufficient to fill the tank in a timely manner. Most cattle will only drink for a short time and then move off again to graze or rest. If some show up to an empty tank, they will leave without consuming enough, or possibly any, water. Your water tanks should be thoroughly cleaned, or at least “disinfected” regularly as well. One side note here, a local company is now making and selling four by four (approximately 280 gallons) cement water tanks. I won’t give the name here to avoid promoting one company over another but if you are interested in that type of tank, give me a call.
Water is an essential and often overlooked nutrient for livestock. However, water should be a top concern to achieve proper animal performance. Livestock owners should consider both quality and quantity when deciding water needs. Remember too that the water should be in a spot that will prevent freezing and heating. Water temperature should be between 40 and 65 degrees. Livestock will not consume enough very hot or cold water.