During a drought, good quality water is vital for livestock. In fact, a 10 percent loss of body water is fatal to most domestic livestock species.
Carl Dahlen, NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist, says the amount of water livestock need depends on the conditions and type of animal.
The general estimates of daily water intake for beef cattle when the temperature is 90 F are:
- Cows – 18 gallons for nursing calves; 15.3 gallons for bred dry cows and heifers
- Bulls – 20 gallons
- Growing cattle – 9.5 gallons for a 400-pound animal; 12.7 gallons for a 600-pound animal; 15 gallons for an 800-pound animal
- Finishing cattle – 14.3 gallons for a 600-pound animal; 17.4 gallons for an 800-pound animal; 20.6 gallons for a 1,000-pound animal; 24 gallons for a 1,200-pound animal
Estimates of daily water intake for dairy cattle at 80 F are:
- Dry cows (for maintenance and pregnancy) – 16.2 gallons for a 1,400-pound animal; 17.3 gallons for a 1,700-pound animal
- Lactating 1,500-pound cows (for maintenance and milk production) – 28.9 gallons for 60 pounds of milk production; 32.2 gallons for 80 pounds of milk production; 35.6 gallons for 100 pounds of milk production
- Heifers (for maintenance and pregnancy) – 6.1 gallons for a 400-pound animal; 11 gallons for an 800-pound animal; 14.5 gallons for a 1,200-pound animal
“Good-quality water can have a major impact on your cattle’s intake and weight gain,” said North Dakota State University Extension Service livestock environmental stewardship specialist Miranda Meehan. “Canadian studies have shown the quality of water accessible to livestock is directly tied to the amount of forage they consume. Studies report improved gains by as much as 0.24 pound per day in yearlings and 0.33 pound per day in calves.”
In addition, providing good-quality water can improve herd health. Livestock whose primary water sources are ponds and dugouts have a greater risk of contracting illnesses such as giardia, leptospirosis, and cyanobacterial poisoning, compared with livestock drinking from a trough.
Dugouts should be fenced to restrict livestock’s direct access to the water. The water then can be piped to a trough. This will increase the water’s palatability and reduce nutrients in the water. Increased nutrients have a direct impact on the growth of certain species of blue-green algae and elevated levels of sulfates, which have the potential to be toxic.
In many instances, the water in dugouts and dams has been reduced greatly because of the drought, increasing the risk for animal health issues related to water quality. Meehan recommends producers using dugouts and dams as their primary water source look into hauling water or installing an alternative water source.
Hauling water is a short-term fix, but it can help get producers through this year’s drought. Water developments are one of the investments that give producers the most bang for the buck, the specialists say.
Common developments include troughs, pumps, wells and pipelines. Many cost-share opportunities are available to producers installing water developments through the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, soil conservation districts or conservation groups. In addition, the North Dakota State Water Commission has opened the Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply Program, which will cover up to $3,500 of the eligible costs for water development projects.
“When thinking about water developments, also consider the importance of maintaining an ample supply of good-quality water for cattle during the heat of the summer,” Dahlen advises. “Heat stress can have major impacts on cattle productivity and also can be life-threatening. Evaluate your water supply lines and ensure you have sufficient water pressure and flow capacity to keep troughs full during times of peak water consumption.”