Ruth Correll: Water quality can have impact on beef yield

Ruth Correll • Jun 27, 2017 at 10:35 PM

Water is the most important nutrient for cattle. Providing adequate and high-quality water supplies to cattle at all times is essential for beef cattle operations. If poor cattle performance or health arises, evaluation of drinking water quality should be considered. Producers should strive to manage water sources to best provide for cattle water needs to maintain peak performance and promote water use efficiency.

The amount of water cattle need each day depends on many factors like air temperature, humidity, milk production level, pregnancy status, physical activity, growth rate, animal size and the type and amount of grass or feed they are eating. Mature bulls or cows may consume 20-25 gallons of water per day during the summer months.

The water source can have a significant impact on water quality. Possible water quality problems may include high concentrations of minerals or salt, high nitrogen or nitrate, contamination with fertilizers or other chemicals, bacterial contamination, or algae growth. In times of drought and rapid evaporation, these contaminants become more concentrated in surface water such as ponds and streams. As this begins to occur, cattle will reduce their water intake, which reduces their feed intake and leads to decreased performance such as average daily gain for stockers and body condition and reproductive efficiency for cows and heifers. High water temperature further reduces intake.

While well and municipal water sources can be more consistent in quality and supply, they are often cost prohibitive to have in remote pastures. If cattle rely on pumped water, it is important to make sure that the supply rate and trough space can keep up with the heaviest demand for the number and size of cattle in that pasture or pen during heat stress. Pumping water directly from a fenced pond to a waterer does reduce contamination from cattle loafing in the pond. However, it does not remove possible toxins gathered from runoff or algae blooms.

Water placement in pastures impacts grazing distribution, particularly if cattle are forced to travel long distances to water. Recommendations based on Missouri research propose that pasture systems be designed to provide water sources within about 650 to 1,000 feet of all areas of the pasture for optimum uniformity of grazing. For intensive grazing systems, strategic water placement should be planned. Use of centralized watering stations in a fence line, lane, or wagon-wheel location allows multiple paddocks to be served by one water trough. 

We do not always think about water as a “nutrient” but it is the largest component of a cattle’s body and is required for all bodily functions. We often take it for granted because it is more abundant here in the southeast than it is in some other parts of the country. But, in recent years we have seen times when water was short and the water that was available was poor quality.  Take water quality seriously as an issue for good cattle management

For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension Office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson.

Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or [email protected]


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