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How much clean water do cows need? The answer might surprise you

By JERRY LITTLE

Contributing Writer

A longtime beef producer once observed that cattle drink as much water as usual when you have a haul it to them. While it may certainly seem that way, the truth behind that whimsical observation is that hauling water to cattle gives you a pretty clear idea of just how much they need to drink, especially on those hot summer days.

The reality is, cows need plenty of water to get them and their calves through the summer heat.

Most cattle producers fully understand the importance of water. After all, providing an adequate supply of clean, fresh water is the cornerstone of animal husbandry.

There are very few things that compare to the feeling of finding thirsty cows grouped around a dry tank on a hot day. Water is important, and in situations where the water supply is limited or we are forced to haul water, one of the first questions we find ourselves asking is, “How much water do those cows need?”

The old rule of thumb is that cattle should consume one to two gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight. Accurately determining the amount of water cows will voluntarily consume is difficult and is influenced by several factors – ambient temperature, moisture and salt content of the diet, body weight, lactation, etc.

Water consumption increases linearly as ambient temperatures increases. Additionally, lactation also directly raises the amount of water required by beef cows.

The second question that often follows is, “How much tank access is required for a given number of cows?” A minimum of 15 inches of linear trough space per head is recommended, and at least 10 percent of the animals in the pasture should be able to drink from the tank at once if the distance to the tank is relatively close.

Water is important. The daily water requirements of beef cows in this article are estimates, and water consumption varies greatly during the summer months when the temperatures exceed 90 degrees F. These recommendations are minimum guidelines.

Jerry Little is the Boyle County extension agent for Agriculture/Natural Resources.