We all know that a source of good clean water is a requirement for animals, and that several different sources of water are common on horse farms and cattle ranches. Certainly some of these water sources are better than others when you consider farm ponds, streams, lakes, well water, and rural or city water systems. Dr. Steve Higgins indicates in Equine Disease Quarterly that it is difficult to find guidelines specific for equine drinking water because most of the guidelines are listed for all livestock. Water samples can be tested for physical properties, excessive nutrients, toxic compounds, and microbes. Water samples can also be tested for water hardness, salinity, and pH. Salinity is the presence of dissolved substances and hardness relates to the concentration of calcium and magnesium in the water. Excessive hardness can create mineral deposits on water pipes and affect the ability to disinfect these areas. Sulfates and nitrates can also be detected as well as arsenic, fluorine, lead, and mercury. Recently, a case of water sulfate toxicity was reported in Canada that resulted in the deaths of five horses and 13 horses with severe diarrhea out of a herd of 19. Fecal coliform analysis can help determine the presence of fecal matter and possible pathogens.
Stagnant water during periods of a drought can cause excessive growth of blue green algae, and cattle have been reported to become sick or die from drinking water with high levels of blue green algae. Floods can also affect water sources as contamination with sewage and petrochemicals is common. If you are concerned about the water source for your livestock, contact the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.