Calves Need Extra Water

Calves need to have water to drink over and above what they get in milk replacer. Fresh, clean water is essential to calf growth. Water helps with the development of the rumen and the digestion of calf starter and allows earlier weaning.

In the 1984, research by A.F. Kertz at Ralston Purina found that weight gain was reduced by 38% and starter intake by 31% for calves between birth and 4 weeks of age that did not receive supplemental water in addition to their milk replacer.

Table 1. Effect of Free Choice Water on Calf Performance
Free Choice None
Daily gain (grams)
Calf starter intake (kg)
Scour days per calf

Kertz, Ruettzel, & Mahoney, 1984, Ad Libitum Water Intake by Neonatal Calves and Its Relationship to Calf Starter Intake, Weight Gain, Feces Score, and Season. J. Dairy Science 67: 2964-2969

Dr. J. Quigley's research in 1999-2000, at the APC Calf Research Unit in Ames, Iowa found that water intake by calves was closely correlated to starter intake. The more starter calves ate, the more water they drank. He determined that daily starter intake explained 60% of the variation in daily water consumption. During cold temperatures, supply calves with warm water if possible.

Graph 1: Water Intake vs. Calf Starter Consumption

Graph 1. Water Intake vs. Calf Starter Consumption

J. Quigley, 2001, Calf Note #68 - Predicting Water Intake in Young Calves.

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Author: Brian Lang - Veal Specialist/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 03 January 2008
Last Reviewed: 27 June 2008