Good drinking water is critical to a dairy herd. Each cow consumes 30 to 50 gallons of water (115 to 190 liters) per day — and water accounts for 87% of the milk she produces — so providing clean, safe water is critical to a complete dairy cattle nutrition plan for maximizing performance.
Use the guidelines below to help ensure adequate water quality for your dairy herd.
In the fall, very wet conditions can drastically change the water composition at a given location due to soil run-off, contamination, etc. This increase of water coming into water sources means water should be tested to ensure there is no increase in contaminants. We recommend testing water every six months (spring and fall are best) to help deal with the variability associated with the seasons. Ultimately, we can’t fix what we don’t know is present.
Water quality and availability are equally important during the winter. Here are some general guidelines for how to handle water during the colder months (especially important for the Midwest, Northeast and Pacific Northwest):
Ultimately, it’s important to check water quality regardless of season, but it becomes even more important during this time of the year when composition changes are much more common and adverse weather conditions can make water supplies limited. In general, be sure to pay attention to the water quality for your dairy herd for the following reasons:
The challenge affecting dairy cows and young stock basically comes down to water being either inaccessible or polluted with high levels of contaminants — both of which result in decreased water intake, which can negatively impact health and performance. High levels of contaminants also impact the nutrients an animal gets from their diet. Therefore, the diet put in front of the cow may not be utilized well due to what’s in the water (e.g., high iron in water can tie up and limit the benefits of trace minerals).
Variable conditions, like heavy rainfall, can make issues like this worse. This is why regular testing of water is critical. When it comes to water testing — how often it should be done and how to get more accurate results — use the guidelines set out in our Providing Clean Water Improves Dairy Cattle Nutrition and Production article. It also provides some effective ways to resolve common issues from inadequate dairy cattle nutrition plans.