Q: Why do I need to be concerned about water quality in a drought?
A: With decreased precipitation, runoff and high temperatures and wind, surface water evaporates, resulting in a concentration of total dissolved solids, and depending on what those solids or salts are, the result could be health and performance problems in livestock, which could result in death loss. Blue green algae can also be a concern.
Q: How do I know if I have a problem with sulfate in my water?
A: Have your water tested using an electroconductivity meter. This will tell you the level of total dissolved solids (TDS) in your water and will be an indicator of whether additional testing is needed. If a sample tests over 3,000 ppm TDS, additional testing is recommended to determine which salts are highest? SDSU Extension Regional Centers and some County Offices have EC meters, or you can purchase one for your own use. Simply collect a sample in a clean container with a lid. It does not need to be sterile.
Q: What solids/salts are going to cause the biggest problem and what are symptoms?
A: In South Dakota we are most concerned about high sulfate water. If water sulfate levels are 1500 to 2500 ppm you will likely see reduced water intake, diarrhea, and decreased animal performance. At higher concentrations of sulfate, i.e. levels greater than 3000 ppm, sulfates are acutely toxic, contributing to polioencephalomalacia (PEM). This basically means it causes softening and deterioration of brain tissue. Symptoms range from reduced water and feed intake, lethargy, star-gazing, head-pressing, blindness, staggering, going down, and end in death. They can progress through this range of symptoms rapidly without treatment.
Q: Is there any treatment for sulfate toxicity in livestock?
A: Dr. Russ Daly, Extension Veterinarian that the following “Per se there is nothing specific for sulfate toxicity, but we usually consider polio to be one of the consequences of high sulfur intake. I think it’s important to differentiate between the two. High sulfate water may cause the cattle to back away, cause some diarrhea, rough coats, etc. Or it could lead to polio, which actually can be caused by other things as well. Sulfur-induced polio is not as easy to treat as other causes (feedlot acidosis, for example). Thiamine is probably the universal treatment, along with anti-inflammatories such as dexamethasone to reduce swelling in the brain.” The best recommendation is to consult your veterinarian.