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Are Your Cows Thirsty?

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
November 30, 2016        
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Are Your Cows Thirsty?
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (11/30/16) — It’s often said that the single most important nutrient on earth is water.  Humans can survive weeks without any food, but only a few days without water.  Most livestock can survive for two months without food, but, again, cannot go more than a week without water.  Water is very important to all animals, and especially dairy cows.  Cows require water for bodily functions like digestion as well as lactation.   On average, milk produced by dairy cows is about 87% water.  A cow’s daily water requirement can range from 30-50 gallons. 

Dairy cows spend about 4-5 hours per day eating, but only 20-30 minutes drinking water.  It’s important to take steps in order to meet your cows’ needs and optimize water intake.  Here are some tips:

-Make sure waterers are easily accessible.  There should be direct access to water as cows exit the milking parlor, as well as access to water within 50 feet of the feed bunk. 

-Provide trough space of 3.5 linear inches per cow, and have at least two waterers per pen. 

-Check flow rates, and maintain a minimum of three inches in the trough at all times. 

-Keep waterers clean, as clean, fresh water will lead to optimum intake. 

Besides paying attention to water intake, consider the quality of the water.  A great way to check the quality of your water is to have it tested, especially if you feel your cows are not drinking water the way they should or used to.    Tests can analyze for nitrates, sulfates, minerals, hardness, total dissolved solids, and bacteria.  Knowing what’s in your water can help optimize your feed ration and diagnose health problems.  Water plays such an important role in your cows’ well-being, so it’s critical to know what’s in it.  After all, it’s the most important nutrient.


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