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How quickly do water systems pay for themselves? New calculator available

Allowing cattle access to clean water can improve herd health, as well as  increase weight gain and backfat. A 2005 study reported that calves whose dams drank from water troughs gained on average 0.09 lbs per day more than calves whose dams had direct access to the dugout. Because water and forage intake are closely related, as cows drink more water they also spend more time eating and therefore produce more milk for their calves. Calves with access to clean pumped water were on average 18 lbs heavier at weaning time. A separate study in 2002 found that calves, with dams drinking clean water, gained 9% more weight than calves with dams that had direct access to the drinking pond.

It has also been reported that cattle drinking contaminated water show both a decrease in water consumption and weight gain.  The 2005 study found that calves provided water aerated and pumped to a trough in early summer tended to have greater (0.18 and 0.19 lb/day respectively) weight gains than calves drinking directly from a dugout. The effectiveness of any water treatment in improving cattle weight gains appeared to be related to improved water palatability. When water palatability is improved it increases both water and feed consumption. This suggests that improving water quality with aeration and pumping to a trough will improve weight gain 9-10% over a 90-day grazing period in most years.

The same study also found that yearling steers had 8-9% higher weight gain when they had access to water that had 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.

Overall, the potential benefits of implementing a water system include:

  • Increased weight gain
  • Improved herd health & decreased disease problems
  • Environmental benefits through water source protection & longer water source life with decreased localized soil erosion
  • Safer watering sites for livestock
  • Improved pasture usage
  • Enhanced wildlife habitat

A water system calculator has been developed to estimate the potential economic benefits and costs of alternative watering systems compared to direct access to dugout water. View the calculator at: Water Systems Calculator

Find more calculators like this at: Interactive Calculators and Tools

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Stuart McDowallApril 5, 2018

Do watering systems qualify for "Growing Forward"? Thanks Stuart


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Beef ResearchApril 9, 2018

Hi Stuart,

It varies by province. If you're in Alberta, visit for details.


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