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Water Is Still a Crucial Nutrient for Livestock in the Winter

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
December 13, 2017        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties


Water Is Still a Crucial Nutrient for Livestock in the Winter

By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (12/13/2017) — With blasts of winter weather the past few weeks, it seems all farmers are thinking winter.  For livestock care, that includes potential changes to feeding plans.  Winter feeding plans often focus on maximizing nutrients.  However, there’s one nutrient we may be missing.  Water.  Water is the most essential nutrient for living creatures, so it’s important we understand our animals’ needs for water, and how to provide it when it’s freezing outside. 

Just like any other time of the year, your animals require clean, fresh drinking water.   Depending on species, your animals will need 3-14 gallons—or more—of water each day.  A major contributor to animals needing all this water is the increased energy density of their feed, and their overall increased feed intake to maintain body condition and temperature.  All that eating makes the livestock thirsty.

Some farms may depend on their livestock getting water from eating snow or licking ice.  While some pasture animals will instinctively eat snow, others have trouble adjusting to that and will not.  Bottom line: if your animals are on pasture, you should not solely count on them eating snow or licking ice to get water.  Many farmers find heated waterers to be a convenient option as they usually keep water from freezing.  These are a small investment, but there are many options and you can work with your local dealer to find the best solution for you and your needs. 

If you don’t have a heated waterer, you should be bringing fresh water to your livestock by hand.  The water should be warm enough to not freeze but not so hot they won’t drink it.  A target temperature for hauled fresh water is around 40 degrees F.  Water should be brought out to your livestock several times a day to encourage adequate water consumption.  If animals completely drain the buckets, bring out more right away to ensure they are getting their fill.

Proper nutrition is crucial to maintaining happy, healthy animals throughout the winter months.  Just as vital is providing your livestock with fresh, clean drinking water.  Water will encourage feed intake and keep an animal at optimal function and production.  This winter, don’t forget to keep your livestock hydrated.


Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
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