The Importance of Clean Water for Cattle

August 2008
Sonja C. Crawford - Hendry County Extension, 4-H Coordinator/Livestock Agent II

Summer rains have resulted in increased water levels in ponds and reservoirs as well as green pastures for many South Florida cattle producers. Water is the most important of all the nutrients essential for life, growth and reproduction, and is consumed by the animal from free-choice water sources and feedstuffs. It is needed for all metabolic processes such as in the digestion and absorption of food nutrients, the removal of waste as well as regulating body temperature. The water requirement consumed by cattle is determined by many factors including weight, pregnancy, environmental temperature, lactation, activity, type of diet, and feed intake.

Restriction of water intake below requirement will reduce feed intake, which will lower cattle production. Cattle lose water from the body through a number of routes. Sources of water loss include urine, feces, sweat, and water vapor from the skin and lungs. Urine production depends on activity level, air temperature, water consumption and other factors. The amount of water loss in the feces depends upon the diet.

The amount of water consumed by cattle will be determined by the quality of water. Clean water is especially important for young growing cattle, while dirty water can decrease cattle performance and be a potential source of disease. On average, on a hot summer day, young heifers ranging from 400 to 800 pounds require 9.5 to 15 gallons of water per day whereas lactating cows require approximately 16 gallons per day with mature bulls requiring 19 to 20.6 gallons per day.

Cattle should have free access to all of the quality water they can consume. Safe supplies of water are essential for optimal production of cattle. Water sources for cattle should be periodically sampled for quality and potential contaminants. Determinants such as pH, salinity, nitrates and nitrites, as well as other contaminants or toxic elements will affect the safety and acceptability of water for cattle.


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