Good water could be a concern this year. Low snow pack and above average temperatures have produced a lowered water table and reduced the flow of water from some wells, springs and streams.
With a reduced flow, water quality can become a problem. Pollutants that may enter a stream can be in a greater concentration than normal due to the lowered volume of water to dilute them.
Good water quality should be a concern for all producers, not just those with noticeable animal problems or highly visible water quality problems. Begin planning now in anticipation of a short water supply or a possible severe drought. Start by testing your water source to identify any potential problems.
Consider the importance of water:
* Regarding body composition, a cow's body is 72%, a newborn calf is 83%. Water is required to maintain stable body temperature, adequate blood circulation, cellular metabolism and kidney and bowel function.
* Water contains varying levels of phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sodium and chloride. It can also be a carrier for undesirable elements such as nitrates, bacteria, herbicides and pesticides.
The basic amount of water requirement for an 1,100-lb. cow is 10-12 gals./day. But, the amount an animal will drink is influenced by such factors as environmental temperature, wet vs. dry feed, milk production, salt consumption, and water temperature and quality.
One of the most commonly voiced problems associated with water is high saline content - the salts dissolved in water. It's measured as total dissolved solids (TDS) expressed in parts per million (ppm).
As the TDS level of the water increases, so does water intake until a threshold point in salinity is reached. Water consumption then drops. Decreased water intake is also reflected in decreased feed intake.
Alkalinity or acidity of water is measured by pH - 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acidic and greater than 7 is alkaline. Highly alkaline water may cause digestive upsets, diarrhea, poor feed conversion, and reduced water and feed intake.
Nitrates are a common problem, especially near high concentrations of livestock where runoff may be a problem. It's also a concern where heavy use of fertilizer has leached through the soil into subsurface water.
Nitrate levels in water are seldom toxic. But, when consumed in conjunction with feeds high in nitrates or NPN, problems may arise even though individually they may be at safe, recommended levels.
Sources of nitrates in water include nitrogen fertilizer, animal manure, decomposing organic matter (crop residues) and human and industrial waste. Shallow wells generally have higher nitrate levels than deeper wells. Sulfates make water bitter and often give it an objectionable odor. Animals can adapt to high levels, but it's best that high-sulfate water be diluted with known clean water.
High iron levels may be a problem in some areas and can cause decreased water consumption. They may also tie up other nutrients.
In some high mountain areas, high molybdenum levels in water can be serious for grazing cattle. Just 1 part of molybdenum will tie up 5 parts of copper. Low copper levels in the animal will show up physically as a reddish tinge in black-haired cattle. Metabolically, it shows up as a depressed immune system. Many cattle coming off these ranges turn into wrecks in the feedlot.
Most water sources have many microorganisms, but most are harmless in low concentrations. Certain types may be harmful, however. Some blue-green algae are toxic, but there is no good method to determine which type is or is not potentially toxic. Copper sulfate has been used for many years to kill algae in water tanks.
Coliform levels below 50/ml generally are considered safe for all cattle. Other contaminates may include coccidiae, staph, lepto, some viruses and streptococci.
Herbicides and pesticides contaminate some water sources and can cause problems at certain levels. No accurate maximum recommended levels of pesticides have been established for cattle. Use the guidelines established for human consumption.