Evaluating proper water supply for dairy cattle

Sep 14, 2021


Next to oxygen, water is probably the most important nutrient for dairy cattle.  Research from the University of Illinois suggests water requirement of a high-producing dairy cow is greater than any other land-based creature due to milk being 87% water. Additionally, water is essential for maintenance of fluid & heat balancing, circulation of nutrients & excretion of urine, feces, and respiration. This adds up to as much as 80% total body water for the lactating cow. Intense care is logically given to specific nutrients in the ration, but provision of clean, free-choice drinking water receives considerably less respect. 
For every gallon of milk produced, four (4) gallons of water are required. A gallon of water weighs approximately 8.3 lbs. while a gallon of milk weighs approximately 8.6 lbs. Thus, as a rule of thumb, if a cow is producing 80 lbs. of milk, she will require approximately 37 gallons of water and an additional 20% during summer heat.
During times of low milk prices, many rations will be cut to reduce feed costs. While scrutiny of rations should always be practiced, milk price will still be above feed costs. Now is the time to ensure proper water intake and availability. Water generally will always be the lowest cost nutrient. Use the information below as a guide in evaluating proper water supply:
  • Provide no less than one foot of linear trough space per cow in return alleys/ breezeways off of milk parlor. It is normal and typical for cows to drink volumes of water immediately after milking.  Penn State University suggests enough water trough space to allow half of cows in parlor to be provided with two feet of linear trough space per cow upon exit of the parlor. This would mean if the parlor is a double-10, approximately 20 ft. of linear trough space.
  • It is superior to provide 2 water sources per group where cows are housed. Cows shouldn’t need to walk more than 50 ft. for water. Also, water should be in close proximity to feed bunk and should be protected from sunlight.
  • Providing open space around water is important. Crossover alleys in free-stall barns should allow a minimum width of 13 - 14 ft. to allow one foot for the width of the water trough and allow about 5 ft. for other cows to pass behind cows that are drinking.
  • Head clearance around water source should be no less than 2 ft. on every side — less may reduce optimal water consumption.
  • Understand the filling capacity of watering source. Cows should never have to wait for water.
  • Water MUST be clean.  Water sources should be routinely cleaned (daily or weekly).   Dirty water is unacceptable.
 
For more information visit or call your local Co-op!

Read More News

Mar 04, 2024
We all deal with some sort of change almost every day of our lives — from changes in our surroundings such as the weather, to bigger changes that involve losing a loved one or a good friend that moves away. This may sound cliché, but change is most certainly inevitable. This is especially true in the field of agriculture. 
 
Feb 05, 2024
A cold, January rain begins pattering the hood of his pickup as Lobelville cattleman Tim Byrd pulls up to the metal gate of his pasture. Across the fence, members of his commercial cow/calf herd look on expectantly, gathering near the fence.
 
Jan 08, 2024
With winter conditions upon us, meeting our animals’ nutrient requirements is key to the economic success of our beef herds. For spring-calving cows, winter feeding coincides with the last third of gestation and early lactation. During this cycle, these cows require a higher level of nutrition than do dry cows in early gestation.
Everything starts with forage, both quantity and quality. It’s important to test and evaluate your forage to understand the amount of nutrients needed to meet the animal’s requirement. A basic forage analysis will offer information about the protein, fiber, and energy levels present, allowing producers to rank hay from various fields and cuttings according to their relative feeding value. Highest quality hays can then be reserved for lactating cows, heifers, and thin cows.