The University of Arizona

Effects of water quality on cattle performance.

W.D. Willms, O.R. Kenzie, T.A. McAllister, D. Colwell, D. Veira, J.F. Wilmshurst, T. Entz, M.E. Olson


Water is an important nutrient for livestock production and is often provided on rangelands directly from ponds or dugouts. Cattle may defecate and urinate into the water thereby adding nutrients and reducing palatability. A study was conducted to examine the effects of water source on cattle production and behavior, to determine the relationship of selected chemical and biological constituents on the observed response and to test the effect of fecal contamination on water consumption. Four dugouts or ponds were selected at 4 sites: 2 in the Fescue Prairie near Stavely in southwestern Alberta, 1 in the Mixed Prairie at Onefour in southeastern Alberta, and 1 in the Palouse Prairie near Kamloops, British Columbia. Yearling Herefords were tested at 3 sites and Hereford cow-calf pairs at 1 Stavely site. At each site, three paddocks radiated from the pond that were stocked with 10 yearlings or cow-calf pairs randomly assigned to either clean water (water delivered to a trough from a well, river, or pond), pond water pumped to a trough (pond(trough)), or direct access into the pond (pond(direct)). The trials were repeated at each site for 3 to 6 years. Observations were made on cattle weight gains, cow backfat thickness, and activity budgets. Fecal samples were analyzed for selected parasites and pathogens. Other experiments were conducted to determine the effects of manure-contaminated water on feed and water consumption and water selection. Calves, with cows drinking clean water, gained 9% more (P < 0.10) weight than those with cows on pond(direct) but cow weight and backfat thickness were not affected. Yearling heifers having access to clean water gained 23% (P = 0.045) and 20% (P = 0.076) more weight than those on pond(direct) and pond(trough), respectively. Cattle avoided water that was contaminated with 0.005% fresh manure by weight when given a choice of clean water. Cattle that had access to clean water spent more time grazing and less time resting than those that were offered pond(trough) or pond(direct). Cattle management must consider water quality together with forage conditions in order to achieve optimal production from rangeland.



microbial contamination;protozoal infections;nematode infections;Giardia;Cryptosporidium;Trichostrongylus;Nematodirus;algae and seaweeds;ponds;salinity;British Columbia;liveweight gain;calves;palatability;Alberta;cattle manure;water supply;water troughs;stocking rate;beef cows;feedlots;steers;prairies;water quality;grazing;beef cattle

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