Monitor For Water and Dehydration This Summer

Published on Tue, 05/07/2019 - 2:34pm

 Monitor For Water and Dehydration This Summer

 By Jaclyn Krymowski

 We know very well the importance of clean, fresh water in agriculture. As ranchers, we are extremely careful to protect and respect our watersheds, freshwater sources, and aquifers. Preserving the water cycle is of paramount importance in environmental stewardship and maintaining the beef industry for future generations. Despite water’s importance, we sometimes don’t fully appreciate it until we’re hit with rising thermometers or even drought conditions.

Water is sometimes considered the most important nutrient. Why? Consider that fluids, primarily water, make up about 60% of a beef animal’s total body weight. For normal maintenance and regular daily function, it takes about 1.2 gallons of water per 100 lbs. to keep an animal adequately hydrated. Keep in mind, anywhere from 10-30% of this water intake can come from feed consumption. This will vary greatly by the amount of dry matter and types of feedstuff you are offering to your herd at any given time. Given this, fluid water intake will be about 8-9% of total bodyweight on any given day. In the summer months, it is not unusual for nearly two gallons per 100 lbs. to be consumed. Lactating cows will require more water than your dry animals. This can be as much as twice the amount by some estimates.
Water requirements will change as temperatures increase even if animals don’t appear to be clinically stressed. University studies have found when temperatures increase even slightly, according to one at just 68F, cattle will increase their daily water intake by five to six gallons. It is important to be proactive in providing adequate clean, fresh water to your entire herd at all the stages of production.

Providing adequate water
Like any other animal, when offered a choice between greater and lesser water quality, cattle will always choose the greater. This means cool, clean and free from contamination and vectors that carry water-borne diseases.

Natural groundwater offerings may provide an adequate water source for the herd in terms of quantity, but it certainly isn’t preferable for health and quality. Natural groundwater reservoirs are extremely prone to fecal contamination, parasitic infection and are a breeding ground for all kinds of water-borne diseases. These systems aren’t always 100% reliable either. They can be very subject to seasonal differentiation and be impacted by drought conditions and evaporation. If water goes stagnant or grows too foul for extended periods of time cattle may not drink it even if there is “enough” available to meet their needs.
Stock tanks and automatic waterers are the optimal sources. Many automated systems are specifically designed to keep water cool, clean and fresh at all times. But no matter what system is used, you will need to regularly monitor water levels especially in hot or drought-like conditions. Even very large stock tanks are subject to evaporation and can be overrun with mosquito larvae and excessive algae overgrowth. 

Also, keep in mind that water is just as important to your weaned or coming-weaned calves as the rest of the herd. One study indicated a nine percent greater weight gain in nursing calves when they had access to clean, fresh water from a trough as opposed to a pond or stream. Be sure you have a source that is within reach of your calves as well as your cows.
Do you know what the water quality is like in your area? In drought conditions, stagnant and evaporated sources will have more concentrated pollutants including dangerous nitrates from manure and fertilizer runoff. Different naturally-occurring minerals can also have an impact on local water sources. Excesses of some of these can lead to absorption and deficiency issues.

Signs of dehydration
In spite of their large size and hardy nature, cattle are prone to clinical dehydration at even small percentages. At only seven to ten percent dehydration, studies indicate natural immune response may be impaired. Regardless of severity, whenever there is dehydration there is also a loss in production efficiency.
There are many signs to look for, though some be subtle, to identify truly dehydrated animals. Note that dehydration is similar to but different than heat stress.
Clinical signs of dehydration may not be extremely obvious at a first glance. When cattle are dehydrated over 5-10% of their bodyweight, you can see eyeballs that are partially sunken into their sockets and the “skin tenting” effect will last for four to eight seconds when pinched and dry or sticky mucus membranes. You may also notice some changes in behavior such as depression, sluggishness and being off feed.
Cattle who are less than four percent dehydrated won’t display very significant clinical symptoms, if any at all. However, there will still be reduced efficiency as animals will eat less and be less actively inclined.
Discuss protocol with your vet on how to treat these animals. In cases where dehydration isn’t too severe, usually treatment is as simple as pumping fluids, electrolytes or lactated ringers. In more severe cases, or in very young animals, IV fluid administration may be necessary. If you are noticing cases of dehydration in certain groups, seriously evaluate your water sources for reasons why cattle cannot access or are refusing them.
It’s easy to assume there is always adequate water provided for your animals at all times. However, nature is not often forgiving, and when access to this nutrient become compromised there will be consequences. Make water system management a regular point of observation in your regular protocol and watch for what your animals are telling you. Remember, this is one nutritional component you can never have too much of!