As summer gets underway, with some areas already experiencing drought conditions, specialists remind producers to supply cattle with plenty of drinking water. Roxanne Johnson, a water quality associate with North Dakota State University Extension Service, says water requirements can double during hot weather.

NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist Greg Lardy adds that the amount of water cattle need depends on the conditions and type of animal. The general estimates of daily water intake for beef cattle at 88 degrees Fahrenheit are:

  • Cows – 16.5 gallons for cows nursing calves; 14 gallons for bred dry cows and heifers.
  • Bulls – 18 gallons.
  • Growing cattle – 9 gallons for a 400-pound animal; 12 gallons for a 600-pound animal; 14 gallons for an 800-pound animal.
  • Finishing cattle – 14 gallons for a 600-pound animal; 17 gallons for an 800-pound animal; 20 gallons for a 1,000-pound animal; 22.5 gallons for a 1,200-pound animal.

“Good-quality water can have a major impact on your cattle’s intake and weight gain,” Johnson says. Research, she adds, has shown that the quality of water accessible to livestock is directly tied to the amount of forage they consume. Johnson notes that any water source, however small, could be vital in a drought year and should prove helpful even in normal years. A flow of just one-half gallon per minute adds up to 720 gallons per day. She suggests storing the water in a larger tank and then piping it to one or more troughs to increase the usability of even a very slow-flowing spring or seep. In the case of dugout ponds, fencing and piping the water to a trough will help protect water quality and palatability.

Johnson also suggests producers consider installing shallow pipelines or high-density polyethylene pipe on the ground’s surface to bring water from wells, rural water sources or tanks hauled in from elsewhere. Shallow pipelines are initially expensive but can prove useful for many years, she says. Using HDP pipe on the surface simplifies installation and repairs, and allows producers to move pipes and tanks more easily.