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Livestock need access to clean, fresh water too

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

It is one of those common sense best management practices that is sometimes easy to overlook, making sure cattle – and indeed, all livestock – have access to clean, fresh water.

Agricultural educators with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service remind producers water is the most important dietary component required by livestock.

“Cattle consume about three times as much water as dry matter during an average day,” said Robert Bourne, Bryan County Extension director and agricultural educator. “When the livestock water supply is foul or low in quality, intake is reduced, which in turn reduces feed and forage intake and daily gain.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey Data latest report, Bryan County is the 2nd leading user of surface water and total water for livestock in the state.

“We have an abundant supply of surface water from ponds and streams available for cattle and other livestock on most county farms and ranches,” Bourne said. “But in many cases, management of water quality leads to reduced performance and in some cases results in animal health problems.”

Contaminants may be of both organic and inorganic types. Organic contaminants include bacteria, parasites, viruses and algae, such as fecal coliform, coccidia, salmonella, cryptosporidia and blue-green algae.

“Livestock prefer not to drink water that is muddy or fouled by manure, urine or algae, but they will stand belly-deep in ponds during hot weather if given the chance, which leads to all of the above,” Bourne said.

Wes Lee, McClain County Extension director and agricultural educator, added livestock operators can improve pond water quality by fencing off ponds and allowing access to only a small portion of the shoreline by use of a floating fence.

“If gravel is added to the access area then an added benefit would be a reduced level of erosion and possibly less incidence of foot rot,” Lee said. “If building a new pond consider installing a gravity-flow pipe through the dam to a freeze proof watering tank with a float-controlled valve. This can provide high quality water and reduce the need to break ice in the winter time.”

All of these management options tend to increase livestock water consumption and animal performance. They also can reduce sickness, particularly in young and recently weaned cattle.

“If good quality pond water is not available for newly weaned cattle, producers should provide access to clean, fresh groundwater in troughs in the weaning pens or traps,” Lee said.

Bourne and Lee added use of an anticoccidial drug may be advised on weaned calves and stocker cattle exposed to stagnant water sources.

“Cattle producers should consult their veterinarian for specific recommendations,” Bourne said.

Inorganic contaminants of concern are primarily sulfates, nitrates and other dissolved mineral salts. Research has shown that high sulfate levels in both surface and subsurface water sources can impact performance and efficiency.

By ingesting amounts of sulfur that are above the tolerable level for beef cattle, animals are affected in the following three ways:
● High salts reduce water intake, which in turn will reduce feed intake, which reduces overall performance. Sulfate levels more than 500 parts per million will begin to negatively affect performance of drylot cattle and stocker cattle being supplemented with by-product feeds such as corn gluten or barley malt pellets that are high in sulfur.
● Sulfur toxicity will lead to polioencephalomalacia, commonly referred to as PEM. It is a non-contagious metabolic disorder causing neurological problems in cattle that can lead to animal death. “Cattle go off feed, get depressed and become lethargic, which eventually leads to blind staggers, paralysis and potentially death,” Bourne said.
● Sulfur interferes with the availability of copper. This could lead to a trace mineral deficiency and cause long-term problems such as decreased reproductive efficiency.

By testing water sources, cattle producers will know if there is a problem. Livestock water testing for inorganic contaminants is available through all Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension county offices.

Anyone seeking additional information on this or other cattle management topics should contact their county Extension office, typically listed under “County Government” in local directories.

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is one of two state agencies administered by OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and one of the three equal parts in the university’s state and federally mandated teaching, research and Extension land-grant mission.

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