Due to recent bad weather in the Plains, the loss of electricity and drifting of snow has left some livestock without access to water sources, says University of Nebraska (UN) animal scientist Rick Rasby at beef.unl.edu/. But Canadian and U.S. studies indicate adult cattle, sheep and horses are able to use snow as their primary source of water, he says.

"Research shows the heat produced from feeding/grazing and normal body metabolism is more than adequate to melt the ingested snow and bring it to body temperature," he says. He adds there were no metabolic differences observed between animals given snow or water, and apparently no additional metabolic energy required for cattle wintered in this manner.

"The Canadians concluded that snow provided producers with an additional option as a water source for livestock during the Alberta winter," he says.

In fact, Quinn Cattle Co. in Northwest Nebraska, working with UN animal scientists, has applied this research with excellent results, Rasby reports. Over a five-year period, the ranch has wintered adult cows from 45 to 70 days with snow as their major source of water.

"They stressed the importance of cattle knowing how to eat snow because it is a learned behavior," Rasby says. "It's also critical that adequate snow is available, and it doesn't form a hard crust that prevents cattle from obtaining enough snow to meet their needs."

Rasby says reports indicate no adverse effects to the fetuses of such dams, but lactating cows are unlikely to obtain enough water from snow and suffer a reduced milk output.
-- Rick Rasby, University of Nebraska