By Dr. Justin Rhinehart
As the days start to get longer and warmer, cattle will need more water
It is easy to forget that something as common as water is a vitally important nutrient for cattle. “We often take it for granted because it is more abundant here in the southeast than it is in some other parts of the country,” says University of Tennessee Extension animal scientist Justin Rhinehart. “But, in recent years, we have seen times when water was in short supply and the water that was available was poor quality.”
Many factors should be considered when calculating how much water your cattle will need per day. According to Rhinehart, the most important of those factors is the temperature. A 1,000-pound beef cow, for example, requires about 11 gallons of water on a 60-degree day. That same cow would require almost 21 gallons of water—almost double—on a 90-degree day.
Lactating and pregnant cows need special consideration when it comes to rising temperatures. Rhinehart suggests that a mature lactating cow consumes approximately 11.5 gallons of water on a 40-degree day. For each 10-degree increase in temperature, that cow would need to consume about 10 percent more water.
It is important to note that not all, or even a majority, of cattle’s water needs to come directly from drinking. When calculating the water needs of your cattle, be sure to consider their diet. “Pasture forages, green chop, and silage generally contain lower amounts of water.” Elaborates Rhinehart, “Lush forage may consist of approximately 75 percent water, while forage in the form of hay may contain closer to 10 percent water.”
Warming weather can also have an impact on many sources of cattle drinking water. Ponds, springs and streams are far more susceptible to chemical runoff, bacterial contamination and algae blooms during warmer weather. Rhinehart warns that these hazards may stunt the growth of the cattle.
“Water is the most important nutrient for cattle,” Rhinehart reiterates. “Providing adequate and high quality water supplies to cattle at all times is essential for beef cattle operations.”