Water, the cheapest feed?

water trough

Which water trough would you sooner drink out of? If we wouldn’t drink out our animal’s water troughs, then why should we expect our animals too? Sometimes we are so busy with other jobs we forget the basics of what a cow wants and needs. Our cows are simple really, all they want is shown in the diagram below.

health chart

So why such importance with water? Nearly 87% of cow’s milk is water, the average cow drinks around 120 litres a day. Limiting water intake can lead to less dry matter intake, lower milk yields and loss in body condition. Its key we encourage as much water intake as possible with clean, fresh, free-flowing water troughs with enough drinking space, the rule of thumb is 10cm per cow. A cow can drink up to 20 litres per minute, so having enough water pressure is vital especially if the volume of the troughs are limited.

It’s just as important to have fresh water for the cows out to grass as well as when they’re housed.

Cows are lazy and don’t want to walk miles to have a drink and when they get there It not being very appetising, so some won’t bother and will become dehydrated and especially in the heat we saw last summer, heat stress with lack of water supply is a recipe for disaster.

When a cow is in the process of calving she isn’t thinking about eating or drinking, so when she has calved its fundamental that we treat her like royalty. She needs fresh silage and plenty of clean water. Cows love warm water and will drink a lot more of it, so if you can give her a couple buckets of warm water it’s a bonus. She has got this huge space to fill now the calve has gone so the quicker we can get water and forage into her the less the risk of twisted stomachs and negative energy balance.

Some signs to look out for the next time you are watching your cows drink

1. Ignoring a water trough in favour of others

2. They are drinking near the ball valve because the water there is fresher

3. Flicking the water with their tongues. Some water troughs are easier to clean than others but if we can spend half an hour a week cleaning the troughs and encouraging more water intake then the return will be worth it. Just tipping the water out won’t do, it needs either power washing or scrubbing to remove debris and slime even around ball valves and the cover.

Water quality is also important.

With bore holes especially it can be high in iron for example which will lock up trace elements. Also check your water storage tanks, if they are dirty it doesn’t matter if you clean your water troughs every day the cows still won’t want to drink It.