Water is the most important nutrient for general animal wellbeing. If water intake drops below required levels, then decreased feed conversion, stressed cattle and dehydration will result. Keep in mind that, as the approaching summer temperatures continue to rise, your cattle’s daily water intake will also continue to rise.

Water requirements for cattle can vary widely due to factors such as environmental temperature, humidity, precipitation, body weight, breed, feed intake, pregnancy status, milk production and water content of feedstuffs. Table 1 contains some estimates of daily water intake for a number of cattle categories. It is for estimation purposes only, and each estimated intake has a wide variation under normal circumstances.

As cattle eat, much of the necessary water requirement may be supplied by the grass or feed they consume. For example, beef cattle on green grass in cool weather will not require much water to drink because the grass may be up to 90 percent water by weight. Also, dairy cattle that consume wet feeds, such as corn silage, haylage or green chop, will require less water to drink each day.

Some water sources may contain contaminants such as bluegreen algae, nitrates and heavy metals that could be harmful to cattle. Water contaminated with dead animals, feces or other noxious materials may be a potential source of toxins or disease contaminants that could threaten the health of cattle.

Lastly, a cow’s water intake can also be affected by the physical characteristics of the water itself. Factors such as salinity (salt concentrations), temperature and hardness (concentration of calcium and magnesium) will influence preference and intake levels. Your county extension agent can assist you with a test for water analysis if some of these issues may be a concern on your farm.

Table 1. Estimated Daily Water Intake for Cattle*
(gallons/day per animal)

As the temperature rises, so do water requirements

*Source: NRC, 1996.

 Source: Jeremy Powell, DVM Assistant Professor - Veterinarian