Agricultural News: Cattle Nutrition


   A Cool Drink: Quantity and Quality of Water for Cattle

   By: Dr. Katie Mason, Assistant Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist

   Although we have had a nice, mild Memorial Day weekend, we know that the summer heat is inevitable. When the summer days start to heat up, it is nice to have a cool drink of water, right? As the high temperatures set in, ensure that your cattle are getting plenty of water and that it is good quality. 

Of all of the nutrients required for cattle, water is the most critical and often overlooked. Water plays a key role in digestion and many physiological processes in the body. Water intake is influenced by ambient temperature, stage of production, and body weight. Though some water can come from high-moisture feed sources like fresh pasture and silage or through metabolic processes, it also needs to be supplied as clean drinking water. During the hottest months of the year, mature cattle may consume up to 2 gallons of water per 100 lb. of body weight. That equates to 25 to 30 gallons of water per head per day for mature cows in the Southeast. Yearling calves may drink up to 15 gallons a day. In addition to providing adequate amounts, it is important to be sure that water is good quality as well.

   High levels of contaminants in water can reduce water consumption and feed intake and make cattle more susceptible to heat stress. On hot days in the summer, water in the direct sunlight heats fairly quickly. If the water temperature is greater than 80 degrees F, cattle are less likely to drink it. If possible, place waterers under shade structures to keep the water cool. One contaminant to keep in mind is nitrate. We often test summer forages for nitrates, but it is important to consider nitrates from all sources of intake, as the cumulative amount above a certain threshold will affect cattle negatively. Microbial agents to be aware of include fecal coliforms and blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). These microbial agents signify the presence of fecal matter, potential pathogens, and toxins in the water which can result in sickness or death. Keep cattle out of ponds and streams to preserve water quality. This can be achieved by fencing off ponds and stream banks, or only allowing cattle access to a small area of water. Keep these things in mind as you provide plenty of clean water this summer to help combat heat stress and enhance cattle wellbeing.

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