Water is the most important nutrient for livestock. Water is essential for regulation of body temperature, digestion, metabolism, excretion, hydrolysis of protein, fat and carbohydrates, lubrication of joints, nervous system cushion, transporting, hearing and eyesight.
Livestock producers know that under drought conditions, water quality becomes as important as water quantity. When the water doesn’t taste good, cows limit intake and in turn, lower their feed consumption, which affects overall growth and durability. Suppressed water intake can depress animal performance more quickly and drastically than any other nutrient deficiency.
Water quality in dams, stock ponds and dugouts can deteriorate in a hurry – especially in drought conditions. When watering holes are not being regularly replenished by rainfall and runoff, the total dissolved solids become more and more concentrated, making the water less palatable and less beneficial for cattle.
Management decisions must be based on water quality and availability. Pasture rotation, stocking rates, early weaning and culling all depend on water.
The best way to determine water quality is a water analysis, performed in a lab. The analysis, which costs very little, takes the guesswork out of determining if water is safe for stock.
A water analysis measures salinity, sulfates, minerals, nitrates, pH and micro-organisms in the water. The First District Health Unit in Minot will do a livestock water analysis for $15. Water should be brought in a clean quart jar, preferably one that has not been used. First District Health recommends rinsing the jar three times in the water that is to be tested before filling the jar. Test results are available in a couple of days.
The NDSU Extension Service has a chart to help producers understand the water analysis. The chart, and other livestock water information, can be found at (www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/livestoc/as954w.htm).
Emily Tescher-Johnston is livestock agent for the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Ward County.