Water is the most important nutrient for your cattle as it can dramatically affect their health and performance. We usually don’t think of water as a nutrient but we should as it has nutritional value. Water varies in quality just like other nutrients so water and water sources should be evaluated throughout the year as water quality changes. Caitlin Hebbert with the Noble Research Institute indicates one study showed that calves and cows on pasture gained significantly more pounds per day when supplied with water pumped into troughs versus drinking water out of a farm pound. While a beef cow can drink about 5% of her body weight per day, which is about 17 gallons for a 1400-pound cow, a dairy cow of that size producing milk may drink four times that much water per day. Water quality affects feed intake as poor water quality decreases water consumption and decreases feed intake, which decreases performance.
Some common water quality problems are high concentrations of minerals like salt, high nitrogen content, bacterial contamination, toxic growth of blue green algae and accidental chemical spills in the water. Studies have shown the more water an animal drinks, the more feed they consume and the more weight they gain. A study was performed on the water source and weight gain and found that a 10-16% weight gain was observed in calves drinking water pumped into a water trough versus those calves that drank from a stock pond. It is believed the aeration that occurs during the pumping process increases palatability of the water for livestock. Also, those calves that drink from a trough spend more time eating and less time resting than those that drink from stock ponds.