Is your livestock’s water reducing profit?


Limiting water intake reduces animal performance quicker and more drastically than any other nutrient deficiency.

Domesticated animals can live about 60 days without food, but only about seven days without water. Meeting livestock nutritional requirements, especially water, is extremely important to maximize performance of newborn, growing, finishing and breeding animals. Consuming adequate water and feed are the principal factors of productivity.


Water in the body performs many functions.

Water helps to:

  • eliminate waste products of digestion and metabolism,
  • regulate blood osmotic pressure,
  • produce milk and saliva,
  • transport nutrients, hormones and other chemical messages within the body, and
  • aid in temperature regulation by evaporation of water from the skin and respiratory tract.

Producers usually think that because water is available somewhere in the field, the livestock drink all they want and production is not limited. This may not be the case, especially in continuous grazing style management systems.

In large pastures when groups of cattle are more than 800-1,000 feet from the water source, usually the whole group comes together to drink. If there is not adequate quantity for the whole group, or the boss cow decides it is time for the herd to leave and go elsewhere, young and or timid animals may not have enough time or quantity left to drink. One might think they would stay and drink after the others have gone, but that’s not the way it works.

Young and timid animals will also leave to maintain contact with the herd. Tanks with tall sides may also pose a problem for small livestock if they can’t reach the water level after other animals have drank. Maximum production does not occur if these situations exist.

Pasture size

Reducing a pasture’s size using cross fences or adding additional water sources so animals do not have to travel as far to get to a water source changes the animal’s behavior. If water is less than 800-1,000 feet away cattle often go to drink individually or in small groups. This reduces the quantity necessary at any given time and should allow each animal to consume adequate amounts of water.

A rather well-documented instance a few years ago, where rotational grazing practices and additional water accesses were installed in a stocker operation, the farm manager netted approximately 50 pounds additional gain per head that year. The same increase was duplicated in subsequent years indicating it was not a fluke.


Products and equipment to increase livestock water availability are not terribly expensive. In today’s market, with prices well over $2 a pound, producers should consider management practices that take advantage of available options.

Water quality, as well as quantity consumed, affects feed consumption and animal health. Poor water quality normally results in reduced water and feed consumption. Water quality problems affecting livestock are most commonly seen with high concentrations of minerals (excess salinity); high nitrogen content; bacterial contamination; heavy growths of toxic blue-green algae; or accidental spills of petroleum, pesticides or fertilizers. Factors such as age, diet and body condition determine tolerance of minerals in water for all species.

Decaying plant or animal protein, nitrogen fertilizer, silage juices and other factors may contribute to high levels of nitrogen forms in surface waters as well as odor and taste issues. Developing or improving a spring or seep by excavation or cleaning and providing a collection and storage area improves the distribution of water.


Water quality is also preserved using these methods. Late August through October is a good time of year to determine if a spring will provide enough water to warrant its development. If a good flow exists during these times, the spring will likely produce substantial amounts of water year-around.

Ponds can be a good source of water for livestock, but access must be controlled to maintain the integrity of the structure and water quality. Water can be delivered from a pond to a trough for livestock use by gravity, siphoning or pumping. When a gravity or siphon system is used, the supply lines to the watering troughs should have an inside diameter no less than 1-1/4 inch. If a line is placed under or through a dam, a minimum of two anti-seep collars, at least 24-inch diameter, should be firmly attached to the pipeline.

A water supply intake should be used when removing water from a pond. The intake should be constructed to remove water 1 1/2 to 3 feet below the surface and a screen or filter placed on the intake. Valves, if used, should be protected from frost damage and installed so they are accessible from the ground surface by means of a capped stand or well. Water can be pumped from a pond by placing a submersible pump in the pond or a drafting basin.

Nose pumps at access points from the pond may also be used to pump water. All lines should be placed at proper depths to protect them from freezing. Pressurized water systems are another option that may be used to provide adequate water to livestock. These can be temporary, on top the ground, or buried for year-around use.
Whatever means works best for you, be sure your livestock have adequate amounts of high quality water to allow them to maximize their production potential.

For more information, contact any member of the OSU Extension Forage Team. Names and phone numbers are listed on the forage team website under the “Directory” tab at


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The author is an Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Monroe County, Ohio.


  1. The same goes for humans. I know of a woman who was “mentally deranged” and put into intensive care. A few days later she was no longer mentally deranged as in intensive care they monitor your bodies water level and they gave her a few shots and then trained her to drink more “aggressively” after which she regained her normal mental faculties for her age. I then noticed that most humans do not monitor their water intake (which is not necessary when young but normal thirst impulses seems to diminish with age in most people. And then I began to ask myself: of all the nutrients that farmers in stalls meticulously monitor – do they also monitor their livestock’s water consumption. It turns out it is rather difficult to do but the answer in most cases is that they hadn’t even thought about it!


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