Clean Water Advantage
Water Quality Counts
Water is probably the most
undervalued and misunderstood part of pasturing livestock.
First Limiting Factor
Water quality is important because
livestock will only gain up to the first limiting factor. If that
first limiting factor is water quality which directly influences
consumption, it doesnít matter what type of grass youíve
got on your pasture because the cows just wonít gain anymore
than the water will allow.
Once we get through this and you
pencil out the economic advantage you get by watering your cattle
from troughs instead of dugouts youíll see that water troughs,
pipe lines and pumps can make help your cattle earn you more
As much as ranching is a way of
life itís also about making a living and preparing the land for
the next generation. Making a living at the ranching business is
getting tougher every year so you need to use all the advantages
you can. Good water on pasture is one of those things that a lot
of ranchers, except those of you who are here today, have a
tendency to overlook. Building a watering system thatís durable
enough to pass on to the next generation is going to be a good
Supporting Research and Science
The science behind this
presentation comes from work done by Walter D. Willms and other
scientists including: O. Kenzie, T.A.McAllister1, D. Colwell, D.
Veira, J. Wilmshurst, and R. Beck, who all work on this type of
research at Agriculture Canada Research stations in Alberta and
Saskatchewan a little north of Montana.
Livestock Water Facts Chart
(400 - 800 lb / 180 - 360 kg)
(600 - 1200 lb / 270 - 540 kg)
Notice the difference between
summer and winter water requirements.
- How many people can name other
factors that affect water requirements?
- How many people know what
influences water consumption which is different from
Other Factors Affecting Water Requirements
- Size and type of animal
- Physiological state (pregnant,
lactating, growing): lactating cows need more water for milk
production, so water intake during the latter stages of
pregnancy can be 30 - 50% higher than normal
- Activity level: more active
animals consume more water
- Type and amount of diet: animals fed on dry feed will require more water than those fed
on silage or lush grass
- Weather conditions: water
consumption increases as air temperature increases
- Water quality: more palatable
water or greater total salt intake will result in increased
- Ease of access: animals will
consume less water if they have to travel further to the
source, or if access to the source is awkward and
The Biggest Factor Affecting
Water Consumption is Contamination
The palatability of water can be
confused with toxicity from algae or associated with salts that
decrease water intake at high concentrations (Embry et al.
1959). Response to these factors may be associated with
physiological effects and not necessarily to preference or
avoidance due to smell or taste.
Perhaps the most predictable
factor reducing the palatability of water is contamination by
feces, yet very few studies have examined the effect this has on
water consumption. Holechek (1980) reported a decrease in water
consumption and animal weight gain from cattle drinking from a
water source contaminated by feces and urine.
On the other hand, Crawford et
al. (1996) reported no difference in weight gain of cattle
drinking water from a pond to which they had direct access.
Several studies were conducted that investigated the effects of
cattle manure on acceptance. In one trial, 3 choices were
offered to yearling cattle:
- Water without contamination
- Water contaminated with 0.005%
- Water contaminated with 0.025%
The manure was added on a fresh
weight basis. The data shows a strong avoidance of contaminated
water, yet the water available to cattle drinking directly from
dugouts is heavily contaminated by feces.
Assuming an animal produces 25 kg
manure each day (fresh weight), defecates 10 times a day, and
defecates 25% each time it drinks from the dugout or pond (on
average of twice a day), each animal would then contaminate an
equivalent volume of 6600 gallons per day with 0.005% fresh
manure. This is further aggravated within the dugout environment
by repeated contamination from a variable herd size, and more
often in the shallow part of the dugout.
However, given no choice, cattle
will drink contaminated water and intake may not be suppressed except at
concentrations of fresh manure beyond 0.25% (Fig. 3). A concentration of 1% appeared to
be a threshold at which water will be completely rejected
In other trials, the
consumption of fresh water was compared to water that was contaminated with
either soil taken from a dugout, to which cattle had direct
access, or manure at rates of 0.05%, 0.15%, and 0.45%. The rates
were 5 and 15% by weight. In both trials, feed consumption was
constant but water intake was reduced from 38 litres of clean
water to 32 litres/head contaminated with 15% muck. Water and
feed consumption were not affected by contamination of low rates
Does water intake
affect feed consumption?
A relationship exists between
water intake and feed intake (Hyder et al. 1968). Butcher et al.
(1959) reported a ratio of 3 litres water for each kg (dry
matter) of feed consumed when the temperature was about 5
degrees C and 7 litres when the temperature was 32 degrees C.
Utley et al. (1969) reported a reduction in feed intake from 6.2
to 4.8 kg d-1 when water was restricted to 60% of free choice;
and the ratios of water to feed decreased from 2.9 to 2.2 L kg.
In a penned study where cattle were offered either clean water
or water contaminated with either 0.25, 0.50, or 0.75% fresh
manure, feed intake was 16.2, 15.5, 15.19, and 14.16 kg (Fig.
3), respectively while the ratios of water to feed were 4.9,
4.41, 3.69, and 4.24 L kg, respectively. Contamination of water
with muck of 5 and 15% reduced water and feed intake and reduced
the ratios of water to feed consumption from 3.1, for fresh
water, to 3.0 and 2.9 L kg, respectively.
Everyone knows that clean water is
better the dirty water. The question is, "just how
important is clean water?"
Here are several reasons why clean
water pays off in the weaning weights, calving percentages and on
the scale for grassers...
The traditional pasture watering
system was pretty simple: get a cat or back hoe, dig a big hole
out on the pasture, let it fill with water and presto! Youíre
watering the cattle. Worked for generations, didnít it? The
problem is that the world is getting more competitive and we need
to get more out of cattle than dad and granddad did.
We keep expecting our cows to
produce heavier weaning weights and spend a lot of time searching
for the type of bulls to make that possible. Weíve got the
genetic potential but there is one unbreakable rule when it comes
to weight gains. The animals will only gain up to the first
Once you get past the genetics, the
first limiting factor is generally nutrition. Water is part of the
overall nutrition package. The amount of water an animal drinks is
directly linked into how much that old momma cow will eat. The
amount of water she drinks has a lot to do with the quality of the
water. All of which brings us back to that old dugout.