When stock water appears abundant and water quality has been consistent in previous years, it’s easy to focus on other things but don’t overlook water testing. Poor quality stock water can lead to reproductive inefficiency, poor gains, disease and in extreme circumstances, death. Even when water supplies appear abundant, stock water may contain high levels of sodium, sulphates or other compounds that lead to toxicity.
Photo credit, Tamara Carter
Water quality can be especially variable in surface water sources, such as dugouts, ponds or dams, and weather doesn’t necessarily need to be hot and dry to warrant regular testing. Precipitation levels in the previous years, groundwater recharge, runoff conditions, evaporation levels and adjacent land use can all impact water quality in both the short- and long-term.
It’s also important to monitor well water conditions. Quality in well water can change quickly, even if wells have had suitable water in the past.
Beef producers often worry about having too much water or not enough on their farms. However water quality, particularly in fluctuating stock water sources, may go unnoticed. As the summer wears on, evaporation, low rainfall, and consumption can cause the quantity and quality of surface water to dwindle. Meanwhile, hot and dry conditions cause cattle to be at their peak water demand.
“Poor quality drinking water is often a factor that limits intake,” said Leah Clark, livestock specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. “When we limit intake we limit production,” she explained in a recent webinar, adding that poor stock water quality can impact animal performance through reduced gains and decreased reproductive success. In severe cases, water quality issues can lead to disease and death. Testing stock water may be particularly important during a drought, when minerals and nutrients can become concentrated as water tables drop in surface or ground water.
Recent producer surveys indicate most Canadian farmers need to test water more often. In western Canada, 59% of producers reported they don’t test their water, and only 17-41% of Quebec and Ontario producers reported testing water once every five years.