Water Requirements for Beef Cattle

It has often been said that water is the most important nutrient. Water is the main component of the animal's body, constituting 50 to 80 per cent of the liveweight, depending on age and amount of body fat. An animal can lose almost all of its fat and about 50 per cent of its body protein and survive. However, the loss of 10 per cent of its body water can be fatal.

The four main functions of water in the body are:

  • regulating body temperature through evaporation of water from the respiratory tract and from the skin's surface
  • helping in the elimination of the waste products of digestion (feces of healthy cattle often contain 75 to 85 per cent water)
  • regulating blood osmotic pressure
  • a major component of milk and saliva

Water consumption requirements depend on a number of factors including:

  • size of animal
  • air temperature and relative humidity
  • rate and composition of gain
  • level of dry matter intake
  • moisture content of the ration
  • pregnancy
  • lactation
  • level of activity
  • access to shade

Cow at water trough
Figure 1: Cow at water trough

Table 1 estimates the water requirements of various classes of beef cattle and at different temperatures. The total water requirement includes both water intake from feeds plus that consumed as free water choice.

Rapidly growing cattle consume large amounts of feed. Table 2 estimates the water requirements of cattle based on feed consumption and air temperature.

To ensure optimal performance of cattle, we must make sure their requirements for water are met. The water provided must be clean and fresh to encourage the cattle to drink to fulfill their needs.

Table 1: Approximate Total Daily Water Intake of Beef Cattle in Litres*

Cattle Class
Weight
Air Temperature in °C
kg
lb
to 4oC
10oC
14oC
21oC
27oC
32oC
Growing
Cattle
180
400
15
16
19
22
25
36
275
600
20
22
25
30
34
48
365
800
23
26
30
35
40
57
Finishing
Cattle
275
600
23
25
28
33
38
54
365
800
28
30
34
41
47
66
455
1,000
33
36
41
48
55
78
Wintering Pregnant Cows
410+
900+
25
27
31
37
-
-
Lactating Cows
410+
900+
43
48
55
64
68
61
Mature Bulls
635
1,400
30
33
38
44
51
72
725
1,600
33
36
41
48
55
78

*Adapted from: Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle: Seventh Revised Edition: Update 2000, National Research Council


Table 2: Water Consumption Estimates for Beef Cattle Based on Air Temperature and Dry Matter Intake**

Air Temperature

Water Requirements per kilogram of Dry Matter Intake

25 to 35oC
4 to 10 litres
15 to 25oC

3 to 5 litres
Young and lactating animals require 10 to 50% more water.

-5 to 15oC
2 to 4 litres

Below -5oC
2 to 3 litres
Increases of 50 to 100% occur with a rise in temperature following a period of very cold temperatures, e.g. a rise from -20o to 0oC.

**Adapted from Effect of Environment on Nutrient Requirements of Domestic Animals, 1981, NRC.

 

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