Thursday, December 21, 2006

Water, Water Everywhere-But Will They Drink It?

I got this article this morning from the fine folks at AnimalNet, which is at the University of Guelph in the great nation of Canada. It's well worth a look if you have cattle that water from sources on the farm such as streams, ponds and sloughs.

Thanks for this update. Nothing escapes your attention.

Cattle watering issues
Yorkton This Week

Cattle producers are being urged to keep an eye on their water resources this winter.Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food Livestock Development Specialist Bob Klemmer said weather conditions over the course of the spring and summer have impacted the quality of surface water sources.The cause can be broken down into two main factors: too much water, and not enough. Klemmer said, while both situations can result in poor water quality and reduced cattle productivity, the prognosis for improvement is much better for the former."Flooding and run-off has led to increased nutrient loading in dugouts, dams, sloughs and lakes in some parts of Saskatchewan last summer. Combined with our hot summer weather, this situation resulted in rapid and recurrent algae blooms," said Klemmer.

Treatment during the summer takes care of this growth, but leaves behind the dead organic material, which ends up decaying on the bottom over the winter months as the water becomes anaerobic.This nutrient loading also encourages the growth of water weeds, which adds to the build-up of organic matter on the bottom. Left unchecked, this scenario leads to brackish/odorous water in mid-winter due to the anaerobic break-down of the accumulated organic matter.

If bad enough, cattle may not drink as much, which will result in a reduction of feed intake and lower productivity (lower gains, weight loss, lower milk production). Fortunately, this situation can be remedied by the installation of a properly sized aeration system.On the other hand, Klemmer said a lack of surface water can impact water quality as well."There are parts of Saskatchewan that experienced very little snow and zero run-off, and therefore no recharge to surface watering sites. Adding insult to injury, the hot, dry and windy weather last summer increased the amount of water cattle required, and caused a much higher evaporation rate, which has led to very low surface water reserves in some areas," said Klemmer.The resulting issues range from uncertainty of water supply/quality, to bringing old wells with questionable water quality back on-stream.

In some cases, this has forced producers to haul water to the cattle. Hauling water is expensive, time consuming and unsustainable; however, because the quality of the water may actually be higher, the cattle may be better off than drinking water from a depleted slough, dugout or dam.As water evaporates off the surface of these water bodies, minerals dissolved in the water remain, and, over time, may accumulate to levels of significance to cattle productivity and health. Even in a year of normal rainfall, one study demonstrated that mineral concentration in a dugout can double. This should be a "red flag" to those in this situation to make sure they test for water quality, especially when water levels fluctuate.Klemmer said knowing your water quality is the first step in ensuring your herd remains productive and healthy."The main minerals of concern are iron (Fe), sodium (Na), magnesium (Mg) and sulphur (S) in the form of sulphates. While iron levels are a nuisance for household use, and can cause problems inside your water distribution system, it is only when iron becomes excessive that it can affect the amount of water cattle will drink and, thereby, reduce productivity," explained Klemmer.Sodium and magnesium are most often of concern when they are associated with high levels of sulphates. High levels of magnesium sulphate have been shown to reduce water intake by cattle. If the water your cattle are fed contains high levels of sulphates, many problems can show up over time.Cattle on high sulphate water tend to have loose stools, due to its laxative effect. While this, in itself, is not a production problem, it may be an early sign that something is up "so check that water. Concerns with sulphates and productivity and health relate to interference in the absorption of trace minerals from the diet (primarily copper, zinc, and manganese) and, in extreme cases, cattle death due to polioencephalomalacia (thiamine deficiency).Solutions to these water quality problems range from installing costly water treatment systems, to initiating a special mineral supplementation program, to re-development of your water source over time.The levels of minerals in surface water can fluctuate widely over time, depending on precipitation, recharge, cattle use and evaporation, and the concerns/solutions can also be long-term, depending on these same environmental factors. Consequently, Klemmer said, a good first step to ensuring your cattle remain healthy and productive is testing the quality of water from all of your water sources."Testing and then monitoring quality over time is very important. Solutions to water quality problems, such as aeration, can be simple and inexpensive or costly and complex, such as treatment systems.


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