Ensuring dairy cattle have an adequate supply of drinking water is an important nutrition consideration for dairy farmers.
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A cow’s body is between 60 per cent and 80 per cent water, while milk is 87 per cent water.
Water is essential for regulation of body temperature, rumen fermentation, flow of feed through the digestive tract, nutrient absorption, metabolism and waste removal.
Water also has structural and functional roles in all cells and all body fluids.
Keys to success in ensuring dairy cattle have adequate stock water
● Large volume concrete troughs help keep drinking water cool.
● Locate troughs in shaded areas where possible.
● Avoid running black poly pipe along the ground, as water will become hot before reaching watering points.
● Use high-pressure flow systems that allow rapid refilling of water troughs.
● Design systems to cater for increased demand in hot weather.
● Consider future increases in herd size or changes to farm layout.
● Locate troughs so that water is not contaminated by feed or manure.
● Design and locate systems to allow easy, frequent cleaning.
● Manage manure build-up around troughs.
The following steps explain some of the above points in more detail.
At any location, maximise access and provide multiple water points
● Make sure cows have sufficient access to water all day. This is determined by trough space and water flow rate into the trough.
● Large volume concrete troughs help maintain supply during times of high demand and help keep drinking water cool.
● Install troughs along the sides of the dairy yard so cows must place their heads through the fence to drink.
● Milking cows usually drink after milking and they can each consume up to 40 litres of water in two minutes. Large troughs on the exit side of the dairy are a must.
High water flow rates are essential to maintain supply at all times
● Use 75-millimetre (three-inch) water pipes.
● There needs to be enough pressure to provide 20 litres of water per cow per hour.
Maximise heat transfer by providing cool drinking water
● When cows drink in hot weather, they cool down by transferring body heat to the water.
● Make sure cows have access to water that is kept cool wherever they are during the day or night. The optimal drinking temperature is 15°C to 20°C.
● In hot weather, allow up to 250 litres of water per cow per day — double their normal intake.
● Water troughs in every paddock will keep cows grazing longer in hot weather. If cows leave the paddock to get a drink they often do not return to graze.
Water for permanently housed cows
These guidelines apply where cows are confined 24 hours a day to feed pads or sheds.
● At least a metre of trough drinking space should be provided for every 20 cows. Provide at least two separate water points for every group of cows and ensure plenty of space around each watering point.
● Water systems should supply at least 20 litres per cow per hour.
● Each trough should be able to hold at least 200 to 300 litres of water with a minimum flow rate of 10 litres per minute.
● Trough volume can be reduced to about 100 litres if the flow rate is increased to 20 litres per minute.
● Troughs should be 600mm to 900mm high.
● Water depth should be 150mm to 200mm to maintain cool temperatures and reduce debris accumulation.