Fresh Starts -
Give Pastured Heifers High-Quality Water
Help your pastured heifers grow by giving them high-quality
If they arent drinking, your heifers arent
eating. And if they arent eating, they arent growing.
Clean drinking water is key for all pastured cattle. For heifers,
its a vital link in the chain of successful growth.
Water quality affects consumption. If your heifers water
intake is low, theyll eat less dry matter. Low consumption
reduces growth. To maximize their water and feed intake, you need
to provide them with clean, palatable water.
Pastured livestock are often watered from surface sources. Water
quality deteriorates if you let cattle walk into the water or let
surface runoff containing fecal material contaminate it.
With proper management, you can maintain surface water quality
on your farm and improve your pastured heifers growth rates.
Research conducted by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration
at the Western Beef Development Centre in Termuende, Sask., shows
dramatic differences in cattle growth performance in relation to
the quality of their drinking water.
Gains were up to 30 per cent higher for animals drinking fresh
water versus water straight from a dugout or pond. Although cattle
have a high tolerance for variable water quality, they perform better
when provided with clean water.
When livestock drink directly from a pond, they also tend to walk
into the pond and defecate in the water, contaminating their drinking
Dr. Ann Clarke of the University of Guelph conducted a study on
the habits and activities of pastured cattle along streams for the
Ontario Cattlemens Association. Her research found the cattle
didnt spend much time in the water. Instead, they used it
as a drinking source and moved out of the stream after drinking.
However, whenever cattle walk in water, they disturb sediment at
the bottom of the stream or pond. Stirring up sediment does as much
to lower the water quality as the urine and feces cows can deposit
in the water.
You can take steps to minimize animal access into your stream or
pond and help prevent deterioration of your water quality. Move
salt and mineral feeders well back from the water supply and provide
some shade away from the waters edge. This will encourage
the cattle to move away from the water once they drink.
Providing an alternate water source for the livestock will do the
most to maintain the water quality. The Saskatchewan study found
cattle that drank water pumped from a dugout to a trough gained,
on average, 15 to 20 per cent more than cattle that had to go into
the water to drink.
Fence a dugout and pump water with an electric, solar or wind-powered
pump into a trough to provide the best quality water available to
the livestock. You can also use nose pumps to make clean water available.
With these, the animal provides the energy to pump the water from
the water supply to the drinking trough that is part of the nose
If cattle must drink directly from a stream, give them a solid
access point that will minimize the amount of soil erosion at the
Use coarse stone to provide an erosion-resistant surface for the
approach to the water. You may have to use geo textile and or geo
web material to create a firm construction.
Geo web is a plastic, honeycomb-shaped material and geo textile
is a construction-type cloth similar to landscape fabric. Both of
these materials are inert and will not break down in the soil.
If water quality is high, cattle will drink more. More water consumed
means more feed eaten and consequently higher gains. By ensuring
your pastured heifers have access to fresh, clean water, along with
an adequate feed supply, youll allow them to maximize their
This article first appeared in the August 2000 Ruminations column
of the Ontario Milk Producer magazine.