Throughout most of our adult lives we have been told to drink eight glasses of water to maintain good health and well-being. But what water rules apply to our livestock as scorching late summer temperatures rise throughout the Ozarks?
University of Missouri Extension regional livestock specialist Eldon Cole shared his knowledge from a previous trial that evaluated the impact of water on grazing beef cattle. The four year trial was conducted at the University of Missouri’s Southwest Research Center near Mt. Vernon, Mo., during summer months.
Cole found over the four year study that on average the water intake for spring-calving cow-calf pairs was 20 gallons of water per day. The water intake for stocker steers was nine gallons of water per day. Cole explained that the amount of water intake would drop during cold weather.
The trial also evaluated the effects and preferences that water quality has on grazing beef cattle. According to Cole, the initial intention of the study was to see a positive response to cool, clean well water. “It blew my mind that it didn’t make a difference,” said Cole.
During the last three years of the trial the cattle were given two types of water, pond water with cattle traffic and well water. In one pasture the cattle had access to both types of water. Each water supply was monitored to measure amount of intake. The results were almost identical. “It was a toss up between which type of water the cattle preferred,” Cole said.
Cattle performance was examined. Cole mentioned that the trials showed no significant difference in growth rate, milk production or diseases. The water in this trail was tested. No sulfate or nitrate problems were detected. It is not always safe to assume that just because the water is cloudy or dirty that it is bad. The best way to determine the quality is to have the water tested, explained Cole.
As the summer sun gets hotter water for cattle to stand in would be ideal but probably not absolutely necessary, said Cole. Water for cattle to stand in provides a cooling system. It is important that cattle have water to stand in if little to no shade is provided for them.
Cattle also use ponds as a way to fight flies, explained Cole. The water helps keep the flies off of their stomachs and sides.
Cole also notes that if cattle have too much access to the pond they can develop problems with their hoofs, such as foot rot.
Ponds for cattle to stand in can have a “plus and minus effect on cattle,” said Cole.
Cole suggested that livestock producers “do the best you can to provide good quality of water to livestock even if that’s pond water.”


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