Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
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Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358
Fax: (859) 323-1952
Water is the most important nutrient for animals, and it is essential to ensure that animals have ample access to clean water. Having water available to livestock allows for optimal animal performance and health. Dry matter intake is directly related to water intake, and the less an animal drinks, the less feed it will consume. This leads to reduced weight gains, milk production, and animal performance. Water accounts for 50 to 80 percent of an animal's weight and is involved in every physiological process.
It is vital that there is enough water available for the entire herd during hot weather because water requirements double when temperatures increase from 50° to 95° F. Water quality affects water intake, herd health and performance. Waterers should be cleaned frequently to ensure the water does not become contaminated. During a drought, water quality declines as the concentration of pollutants increases when water evaporates and becomes stagnant. Using city or county water will decrease the likelihood of this happening, but is not always a practical option. Try to avoid contamination of water by microorganisms, suspended solids, and other pollutants. Preventing animals from urinating and defecating in the water source will help reduce disease transmission. Water analysis should be taken if you suspect water is causing a problem or when a new source of water is developed. Quality shouldn’t vary much for springs and wells, but ponds and streams will normally be lowest in quality during late summer.
Sulfate is present in many water sources in Kentucky and is commonly found in the form of calcium, iron, sodium, and magnesium salts. High levels of these salts can make the water taste unpleasant to animals. Sulfates in high concentrations can cause diarrhea and lead to death in some instances. Nitrates in drinking water are rapidly becoming the most predominant water problem for livestock in the southeastern United States. Nitrate is converted into nitrite once digested, and is dangerous to cattle. Excessive nitrate intake may result in a lethargic animal and sudden death. Animals can adapt to higher levels of nitrates if levels are raised gradually, but prolonged exposure either from feed or water may result in lower feed intake, depressed growth rate and abortions. Stagnant waters may contain excessive levels of bluegreen algae, which are toxic and may result in death of animals as well.
It is suggested that water be placed within 800 feet of all areas of the pastures. Having water in ideal locations encourages more uniform grazing, and manure distribution. Normally, only a few animals will drink at a given time if the water is placed within 800 feet of the herd. Drinking will become a “social event” when livestock must walk further distances to water because they will travel as a herd. This behavior causes lounging at the water source, manure buildup, and increased soil compaction. Placing water within 800 feet will reduce travel time to the water source, as well as time standing around water, increasing time spent grazing.
The amount of water an animal needs each day depends upon the animal's size, stage of production, and the average daily temperature. Different species of animals require different amounts of water. Below are two tables that give a few examples of animal requirements. Be sure to keep an adequate amount of clean water available for your animals in order for them to perform well.
|Mature||8 - 12|
|Brood Mare||8 - 12|
|Foal to 2-year||6 - 8|
|Stallion||8 - 12|
|Pony||6 - 8|
|Mature||1 - 3|
|5 - 20lb Lambs||.1 - .3|
|Ewes with Lambs||3|
|UK Cooperative Extension Service Publication Housing for Pleasure Horses (ID-57). Meat Goat Nutrition, Langston University. MWPS-3 Sheep housing and Equipment Handbook|
|400-lb calves||4 - 7||8 - 15|
|800-lb calves||8||15 - 18|
|1000-lb calves||9 - 10||18 - 20|
|cows and bulls||9 - 14||18 - 27|
|MWPS-6 Beef Housing and Equipment Handbook. UK Cooperative Extension Service Publication Pasture for Dairy Cattle: Challenges and Opportunities (ASC-151)|