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Monday, June 22, 2015

Water Quality & Supply

by Chris Shelley
CSU Extension livestock agent

One of our most important resources, water, is making headlines across the US, in government agencies and even here in Colorado. We do not always think about its importance, but water quality and supply will affect the productivity of livestock. A quick and relatively inexpensive assessment provides valuable information on the quality of the water you are supplying to your livestock.

photo by brianfuller6385 @ flickr

Water makes up as much as 98% of the molecules in humans and livestock. Livestock use water for temperature regulation, digestion, growth, and many other bodily functions, making it very important for producers to know how much their livestock will drink. This is not always just as simple as looking up a value in a table. The ambient temperature, water temperature, diet, growth, lactation and the animal’s activity all play a part in how much the animal will drink. Your local extension office or animal nutritionist can help estimate the animals water needs.

Automatic fountains are a great way to supply livestock with all the water they may need, but bear in mind, each type of water unit for livestock has a limited number of livestock it can service. Alternatively, many choose to oversupply water to assure that their animals have enough. Trial and error, with frequent initial monitoring, can also be used to gauge livestock water consumption. Whichever system you choose, it is always a good idea to have an estimate of what your livestock will consume and what you have available. Remember that water requirements of livestock will change throughout the year.

Livestock owners should also ask themselves, “what else is in my water?”. Water is an excellent solvent, dissolving many polarized chemicals, elements and molecules. This comes in handy when mixing sugar in a drink or washing your car, but water can also dissolve things that may negatively affect your livestock. The water in your livestock tanks can contain anything from algal mycotoxins to dissolved salts and minerals.

Testing the quality of your water may feel like just another expense; however, poor water quality can decrease animal performance outweighing the cost of the test. Most analytical labs can run a water quality analysis for around thirty dollars and will test for pH, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and more.

Many wonder what to do with the complicated results received from the lab. What level of minerals, nitrates, and etc. your livestock can tolerate in water depends on how much is being supplied in the diet. Your local extension office is happy to help decipher results, balance rations, and determine which laboratory is best for you.

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