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Water: Important Nutrient for Beef Cattle Health

05 February 2010

US - Water is an important nutrient for animals and small changes in water management can benefit animal health according to Megan N. Brew extension agent and co researchers at the University of Florida in the US.

Beef cattle need regular access to clean drinking water in order to experience optimum health. Research has demonstrated a positive relationship between access to clean drinking water and performance factors such as growth, reproduction, and milk production. Animals that drink clean, contaminant-free water are generally less prone to illness and disease, gain more weight, and produce more milk.


Livestock drinking water may be contaminated by a number of factors including minerals (total dissolved solids, or TDS), manure, microorganisms, and algae. Some contaminants may directly impact animal health by causing disease and infection; others have a more indirect effect and may cause cattle to decrease their overall water intake. When water intake is suppressed, feed intake will also decrease, and, as a result, animals will gain less weight.


When the mineral content of water exceeds safe levels, animal performance can suffer. High levels of sodium (salt) depress water intake and result in weight loss and diarrhea. Animals exposed to water that is high in sulfur have increased incidences of polioencephalomacia (PEM) and experience higher mortality rates.

Manure in water

Manure is a common contaminant in cattle drinking water, particularly when the primary source of water is a pond where cattle may spend a good deal of time loitering. Manure is carried into drinking water on the cattle's hooves and is deposited directly when the animals defecate. Livestock drinking water that is contaminated with manure can become a hotspot for bacterial growth, which in turn can cause animal disease. High levels of bacteria have been found in cattle watering ponds where they may contribute to outbreaks of coliform related illnesses caused by E. coli, E. aerogenes, and Klebsiella species. These can lead to mastitis, urinary tract infections, diarrhea and numerous other unsavory and often lethal infections.


Blue-green algae are common contaminants in standing water. When ponds become overgrown with algae, cattle will avoid drinking from them in favor of other water sources, if any exist. If no other source of fresh drinking water is available, they will decrease their overall water intake, which results in poorer performance. In addition to blue-green algae, other water-borne microbes can negatively impact animal health. Leptospirosis, which causes reproductive loss in cows, is spread by a microorganism found in water contaminated by urine. The soil-borne microbe believed to be primarily responsible for foot rot (F. necrophorum) can also be spread by consumption of contaminated water.

Small changes

Cattle producers have the opportunity to enhance animal health and performance by improving the quality of water offered to their animals. Small changes in water management may result in improved performance, as well as financial gains associated with decreased potential for illness and disease. Reducing the concentration of TDS, blue-green algae and other microorganisms, preventing fecal contamination, providing fresh rather than pond water and cleaning watering devices regularly can all result in measurable improvements in beef cattle health and performance.

TheCattleSite News Desk


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