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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Winter Water needs for Livestock

- Mike Westendorf

With winter now upon us along with the erratic weather patterns which have affected New Jersey and parts of the rest of the country, it is wise to act now to guarantee winter water supplies. In January and February, when weather gets the coldest, water availability for domestic livestock animals can become a concern.

Water is the most abundant, cheapest, and least understood of all nutrients required for livestock production. We become concerned with water only when it is in short supply or contamination is suspected. If subfreezing temperatures turn water into a frozen nutrient, it will mean trouble for domestic livestock. Livestock will suffer more quickly from the lack of water than any other nutrient. The stresses on an animal caused by cold, wet winter weather require an animal's digestive system and metabolic processes to function at peak efficiency to convert feedstuffs to energy so they can remain warm, healthy, and productive.

Water is essential for a number of physiological functions. Among these is the transport of nutrients, as a solvent or buffer for chemical reactions in the body, for temperature regulation, and, of course, for milk production, growth, work, or exercise. The two main sources of water are that which is consumed and the water present in feedstuffs (especially in succulent forages such as silage or grasses). Often the first sign that water consumption is inadequate is that animals stop eating.

Water is essential to maintain adequate feed consumption. This is most important for animals which are in productive states such as growth, lactation, work, or exercise. Several suggestions for maintaining wintertime water intake apply to all domestic animals:
1) Keep the water temperature above freezing. It is not essential that water be warm, just liquid. Animals generally will not consume ice or snow. 
2) Be certain that water troughs are accessible. Snowdrifts, mud, ice, and distance can all result in inadequate water consumption.
 3) Water should be kept clean and checked regularly to guarantee that it remains clean, as filthy water will be poorly consumed.
 4) Water should be available at all times. If you don't have automatic waterers, then there should be sufficient storage to last between waterings. Large-capacity waterers have advantages, but water turnover and freshness may be less. A smaller waterer or watering bowl will provide fresher water. Try to locate water supplies near feeding areas. This should ensure consumption of both feed and water.
Regular cleaning keeps water fresh

Both automatic and manual waterers can be equipped with heating devices to ensure that water does not freeze. The floating stock water warmer can work well provided it is used properly. Water and electricity can be a deadly combination, so all precautions must be observed. It might be sensible, if the water tank is metal, to ground it so that a heater leaking voltage will not cause any stray voltage problems. Stray electrical voltage (often caused by poorly grounded or insulated electrical wires) has been linked with decreased water consumption on livestock farms (water is an excellent electrical conductor). Reduced intake of water and/or feed due to stray voltage problems may occur with any class of livestock. If you suspect a problem, then have your water supply checked for the presence of stray voltage.

Frost-free hydrants will ensure water availability when manual stock tanks are used as a water supply. If you do not have a frost-free hydrant, it is possible to let the hydrant run or drip constantly to prevent freezing. Although this will work, it is important to ensure that this water is drained away from the animal watering area. If allowed to accumulate, this water will freeze and could be a danger to animals in the watering area. There are low-maintenance, insulated waterers available which are designed to use ground heat to keep water from freezing. The only drawback is that these are fairly expensive. Whatever method you use, now is the time to do some preventive maintenance to prevent problems ahead.

Salt, either in the water or in the diet, can influence water requirements. It is usually a problem only if total salt intake is high and water intake is limited. All species of animals can tolerate water containing .10 to .30% total dissolved salts and all except poultry should tolerate up to .50%. If a problem is suspected, have water supplies tested.

Water requirements for domestic livestock species are as follows: lactating dairy cattle will consume on the average between 15 and 35 gallons per day; non-lactating dairy cows and beef cows require approximately 15 gallons per day; an adult horse will consume between 10 and 15 gallons per day; adult sheep between 1.5 and 3 gallons per day; adult swine between 3 and 5 gallons per day; and an adult hen about ½ a quart. A quick rule of thumb is that for every 2 pounds of dry feed intake, an animal should receive 1 gallon of water. This will vary with stress, weather conditions, disease, productive state, work, or exercise, as well as the water and salt content of the feed.