Clean water, air are the essential free nutrients

Dairy cows

After a summertime little league baseball game, a generous parent would often buy ice cream for the entire team at the local dairiette. Win or lose, that brought refreshment to everyone. As a grandpa, I’ve brought smiles to my grandkids with an ice cream treat of their choice from the ice cream truck — you know, the one with the tinkling bells that drives the summer streets. 

Do your cows get cared for after their daily milking “workouts” with free treats? You just gave a frown when you read “free.” Nothing is free! But two important nutrients that your cows require are free: Clean water and air. 

All dairy cows are offered water and air, but the quality and quantity, if not managed properly, can be poor, especially in the summer. Prepare now for summer weather by providing additional water tanks and proper airflow. 

Parts supply disruption is common in current supply chains. Purchase the spare water pump parts and fan supplies now to avoid high economic losses this summer when fans and water supply malfunction.


A Lactating cow will consume 25 to 35 gallons of water per day. A dry cow will consume 10 to 15 gallons per day. Water consumption will vary based upon production, moisture of the ration and outdoor temperature. With each 10-degree increase in outdoor temperature above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a cow will consume 1.5 gallons per day more water. 

This water intake occurs four to seven times per day within 15 minutes after consuming feed or milking. Provide adequate water tank capacity of 1 gallon per cow to avoid empty water tanks and lower production. 

Water temperature is important. Consumption of well water at 48 degrees Fahrenheit results in a decrease in rumen and body temperature and subsequent performance. Cows prefer water at 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit on colder days and cooler water on hot days. 

Water tanks

Cows can consume water in open water tanks at 4.5 gallons per minute. Water tank capacity should be 100 gallons for each 100 cows to provide an adequate reserve for cows upon exit from the parlor, after TMR consumption or after release from headlocks on health check. 

Water tanks for milking cows should provide 21 feet of tank length per 100 cows. High-producing early lactation cows should have 33 feet of tank length per 100 cows. Locate tanks in open alleys and not against walls. Research with first lactation animals shows higher water consumption with open water tanks that are not against a wall. Cows drink more water from open tanks than cups or ball waterers. 

Water tanks should be placed a distance of 25 feet apart to avoid dominant cows blocking water access, especially in hot summer weather. 

Cows will reduce water consumption for several reasons, including inadequate water availability, low water levels in open tanks, use of ball waterers, hot weather, improper water temperature, inadequate spacing between tanks, competition at the water tank, poor water quality, strong water odor, high mineral content, dirty water tanks or high bacteria count. 


The most abundant free nutrient you can provide your cows is clean, dust-free, moving air. Stale air contaminated with dust, ammonia or other gases will irritate lung tissue and reduce oxygen exchange to the blood. Proper blood oxygen is important for the nutrient-rich blood from the digestive tract to be delivered to the udder for optimal milk production. 

The lungs of a dairy cow must oxygenate 3,500 gallons of blood per day to supply adequate nutrients to produce 80 pounds of milk per day. Poor quality air can result in poor lung function and increase the risk of pneumonia and respiratory disease. 

To provide quality air, avoid putting bedding sawdust or other air-born particles in the air while cows are in the barn. Provide proper air exchange in the barns. Summer air flow must provide 40 to 60 air exchanges per hour. Airspeed at the cow level (lying or standing) should be 4 miles per hour and capable of 6 miles per hour on hot days. 

Fan spacing should be placed to remove all dead air zones. Water sprinklers properly installed will provide evaporative skin cooling and keep cows cooler in the hot summer months. 


Calves require clean water starting at three days of age for high health and performance. Quality air is also important for calves. Calves that have had pneumonia will have permanent lung tissue damage and as adult cows will have reduced lung capacity and will be “poor doers.” 

Your dairy cows are major league athletes. Treat them to proper housing conditions with plenty of clean, clear water and quality air. They will reward you with a world series win in the end, and smile back if they can do that.


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!



We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.