A water source that is safe, palatable, and readily available is essential for animal survival, but there is also clear evidence that the accessibility of water impacts the productivity of cattle.
Dugouts are a common water source for range cattle in western Canada. When dugout water is pumped into troughs, pre-weaned calves gain more weight.
In a study done at the Western Beef Development Centre, cow-calf pairs were provided either direct access to a dugout or access to troughs of untreated water pumped from the same dugout. Calves with cows that drank from the troughs gained on average 0.09 lbs per day more than calves with cows that only had direct access to the dugout. Pumping water resulted in an extra 18 lbs of weaning weight per calf during the trial.
Cattle with access to pumped water on summer pasture drink more than animals that need to drink directly from a dugout. Pumping water provides cleaner, more palatable water because it prevents cattle from contaminating the water source with feces and urine. Water and forage intake are closely related, so cows that drink more water also spend more time eating and therefore produce more milk for their calves.
Treating surface water by aerating, or with coagulation and chlorination, has the potential to increase weight gain further. The same study found that yearling steers had 8% to 9% higher weight gains when they had access to water that at been coagulated or aerated before it was pumped compared to steers that only had direct access to dugout water. Steers gained 3% more weight with access to untreated pumped dugout water versus direct dugout access.
Cattle weight gains are not the only benefits of pumping water. Producers can also prevent environmental, herd health, and pasture utilization problems that can result from direct watering from surface water sources.
Despite the costs, time and effort of researching, installing and maintaining watering systems, pumping water has potential to increase profits.
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