Summertime water requirements for the cow herd

By : Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist

During hot summer months, the water needed for a cow herd often determines several other management decisions.  To best assess the adequacy of water quantities in surface water or from wells or “rural water” supplies, it first is necessary to have an idea of the amount needed for cattle of different sizes and stages of production that you may have during the summer on the ranch.

A University of Georgia publication (Rossi and Pence, revised by Dyer, 2012) lists the estimated water requirements for cattle in different production stages if the daily high temperature is 90 degrees F.  They suggest that the amount of water required can be estimated by the production stage and the weight of the cattle.  For instance, a lactating cow needs 2 gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight.  A non-lactating cow or bull needs just 1 gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight.  If you are estimating water needs for your cattle, be honest about the weight of the cows in the herd.  Many cows today weigh 1200 pounds or more (some a lot more).   Therefore expect that most spring calving cows will need at least 24 gallons per day for themselves and for their calf.  Also recognize that some summer days in Oklahoma get even hotter than the 90 degrees used in the Georgia paper.  On days with extreme heat, expect the water usage to go up even further.

Water quality is also a consideration in the summertime.  Nitrate concentrations in surface water may be a concern especially if that water source has runoff from nearby crop fields.  Nitrates in water can add to the nitrates consumed from stressed plants such as forage sorghums and Johnsongrass.  Water samples can be sent for nitrate content via your local County Extension office to the Oklahoma State University Soil, Water and Forage Analytical Laboratory in Stillwater.  Blue green algae also may occur in standing water and be toxic to cattle.  Although it is titled “blue-green algae”, the culprit is actually a cyanobacteria that produces the toxin which can be lethal to cattle that drink from the affected pond.  Water tests may be sent to the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for microscopic screening for “blue-green algae”.  Consult your local large animal veterinarian for assistance with this test.

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