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Animal Health & Nutrition

RSS By: Rick Lundquist, Dairy Today

Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. He provides livestock production advice.

Annual Water Analysis Recommended

Jan 03, 2011

Some recent water quality issues on dairies that I work with reminded me that it’s probably time to check the drinking water for my clients’ cows.

An annual water checkup is a good idea and, in many areas, twice per year may be better. Obviously, if well locations change, a water test should be run, but in areas where there are distinct wet and dry seasons, mineral concentrations may change with the water table.

When sampling water for testing:
 
1.       Sample the same water source that the cattle are drinking, but don’t take samples from the water troughs.
2.       Let the water run several minutes before taking the sample.
3.       Use a reputable lab and use the containers that the lab provides.
4.       Many labs have a “livestock drinking water” test package. This should include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, sodium, chloride, manganese, potassium, pH, nitrates, and sulfates, hardness and total dissolved solids (TDS).
5.       In addition to the tests listed above, you may want to test for coliform bacteria. This will require a sterile container and should be shipped to the lab overnight.
 
Bad water is not an uncommon problem. Water is the most important nutrient for cattle. Health, reproduction and milk production all depend on a readily available, palatable source of good quality water.
 
Some common problems to look for include high iron, sulfate and manganese levels. These elements will decrease water consumption because they reduce water palatability. Hydrogen sulfide causes a rotten egg smell and is detrimental to water intake, especially when cows, such as purchased replacements, are not accustomed to it.  Sulfates also interfere with copper and selenium absorption. High TDS levels can also reduce water intake.
 
I recently tested water that had high enough sodium content that it doubled the sodium intake of what was provided in the ration. In such cases, ration mineral adjustments are necessary. 
 
Zinpro Corporation has an excellent water evaluation program that is available to consultants. Your nutrition consultant can help you evaluate your water analysis and possible ration adjustments or water treatments that may be needed.
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