Water is an important part of management as weather changes

cattle waterer

As the seasons change, so do the needs of our animals. Right now, kids are going back to school, high school football teams, along with the band, cheerleaders and cheering sections, are under the lights on Friday nights, daylight hours are getting shorter, and a bit of a cool down is in the local forecast. It is a great time to make sure you are ready for the season ahead. 

As you think of cover crops, fencing, rotational practices, using stockpiled fields, how much hay to store versus to sell or buy, along with the hundreds of other management decisions that producers make for their farms, I would like to add one to the list — water. 

We all know that access to clean, palatable, reliable water sources is vital for our livestock. But as I attended the recent Beef and Forage Field Night held at Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s Jackson Agricultural Research Station, I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the participants were very engaged in the station about water access. 

Several I was sitting close to mentioned that they knew this was an area of their farm that needed attention and probably before the cold of the winter months set in. If you are in the same position as many of these producers, read on for some items to think about as you plan for the future of your operation. 


According to nutrient requirements of beef cattle, lactating beef cows will need more than 12 gallons of water a day on a nice 50-degree day. In the summer at 90 degrees that goes to more than 16. Even a 1,000-pound finished calf will need nine gallons on a 50-degree day and 20 gallons on a 90-degree day. 

If you have sheep and goats in your herds, add 2-3 gallons per animal on cool days with more water needed on hot ones. The number would change according to stress, the moisture content in your forage, availability of water sources — I know my human kids will drink from my cup in the living room but will not walk to the kitchen to get their own — and even breed of livestock in your operation. 

However, these are good numbers to start with. From these, you can do the math to see how much water your animals are consuming on a daily basis. 

Ready access

Livestock need ready access to clean water that they will drink. Research shows that water can often be a limiting factor in our animals reaching their full growth potential, and their full earnings potential, as we look at market changes. 

One study from Missouri showed that pasture carrying capacity could increase by 14% when livestock traveled less than 800 feet to a water source. Adding additional water sources in your fields may also help with cattle coming all at once to drink, and the chaos, broken troughs, trampled ground, and headaches that herd travel patterns can cause. 

Depending on your source of water, you may want to do some testing to ensure that the water is not contaminated. Natural sources such as streams and ponds should be monitored for quality during times of environmental stresses. Even water in holding tanks needs to be inspected often for signs of algae growth, broken lines, and other issues. 

As winter gets closer, we need to make sure that our water sources are weatherproof, which may mean burying water lines below the frost line for your part of the state, adding a moving water feature, or even adding safe heat sources to ensure you do not have animals without water sources during cold conditions. 

There is no one right way to provide water for your animals, but the quickest way to add work and possibly decrease production is to do nothing and wait to see what happens. 

Do not be afraid to try a different method to try to improve water use, but make sure to do frequent inspections during times of change to be sure that animals are utilizing the new system. 

Water is the most important nutrient we provide for our animals. It allows stomachs to work at full capacity and ensures the work we put into our fields, animals and total operations is maximized. 

Good practices around providing quality water sources will lead to healthier animals, more growth and ultimately greater profitability. 

If you have questions about best practices, or would simply like more information on this topic, contact your local extension office, or check out the livestock water development fact sheet on Ohioline.osu.edu. 


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