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Don’t overlook the importance of water

Emily Wilmes
University of Minnesota Extension
A milking dairy cow drinks about 30 to 50 gallons of water each day. The quality of that water is just as important as the quantity.

The earth is 75% covered in it. Our bodies are made up of more than 60% of it. We can only survive 4 days without it. I’m talking of course about water. It is considered one of our most important natural resources and is the most essential nutrient to our diets. That’s not just for humans, though–it’s true for livestock, too!

Most livestock can survive for two months without food but cannot go more than a week without water. Water is very important to all animals. It is required for bodily functions like digestion and lactation.

It is important that livestock get high quality water.

Test your water for salt and toxins

Knowing what’s in your water is important because certain factors can affect livestock performance, cause health problems, and even lead to death.

The most common factor making water unsatisfactory for livestock is high salinity. High salinity is an excessive concentration of dissolved salts. Other factors that can affect water quality are nitrates, sulfates, alkalinity and toxic elements.

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The best way to find out the quality of your water is to have it tested. A quality analysis can test for total coliform bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids, salinity, hardness, nitrates, sulfates and toxins.

Make sure water is clean and fresh

Livestock should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Besides testing, there are a few ways you can make sure your animals have high quality water.

  • If your livestock get water from tanks, clean those tanks regularly.
  • Animals that have individual water buckets (such as calves in hutches) need to have their pails cleaned and disinfected regularly.
  • If your animals have access to ponds or streams, try to limit those access points in order to keep the water cleaner.

Water is an essential but often overlooked nutrient for all livestock. Giving our animals plenty of fresh, high quality water will ensure peak health and optimum performance. The best way to know what’s in your water is to have it regularly tested once a year.

Wilmes is an Extension livestock educator in Stearns, Benton and Morrison counties, Minn.