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.
Recurring droughtis a natural part of the climate in many areas of Canada and creates a challenge when managing grazing and forage resources. Although droughts are often unpredictable, they are inevitable, meaning they are often at the back of every producer’s mind. Long-term farm and ranch management must include planning for and consideration of how drought will affect the entire system – including plants, livestock and water sources.
Eight tips for drought management
When managing through a drought, consider combining groups of animals to encourage grazing of less desirable plants and grazing pastures with species that are more tolerant of increased grazing pressure. It is important to monitor for toxic or poisonous plants, which are more likely to be grazed during dry years.
Sources of water for grazing animals can quickly become limited or unavailable during drought periods. It is recommended that any pastures that could possibly run out of water be grazed first. In some cases, it may become necessary to use a portable stock water supply in order to continue grazing a forage source where water has become limited.
Editor’s note: Relevant and up-to-date information that had been available on Foragebeef.ca is gradually being added to BeefResearch.ca. (More information). The new Water Systems for Beef Cattle page, which is previewed below, is one example. Further webpages will be added or updated on BeefResearch.ca to include the valuable content from Foragebeef.ca, ensuring that information remains freely available online. Completion is expected by Spring 2020.
Water is an essential nutrient for cattle, accounting for between 50 and 80 percent of an animal’s live weight. For livestock to maximize feed intake and production, they require access to palatable water of adequate quality and quantity. Factors that determine water consumption include water quality, air and water temperature, humidity, moisture content of feed/forage, cattle type (calf, yearling, bull, cow) and the physiological state of the animal (gestation, maintenance, growing, lactating). Producers must consider individual grazing management strategies, site characteristics and economics when designing water systems.
For optimum health, cattle need a consistent source and adequate supply of water on a daily basis. Water quality and intake will affect cattle growth and performance. Access to fresh, clean water increases animals’ water intake, which in turn, increases their dry matter intake. This improves animal performance. Continue reading →
Beef producers across the country are always looking to improve management and production practices that not only benefit cattle, but also reduce their workload, and help to save time and money.
It may involve improved calf identification measures, installing remote cameras to monitor watering systems, or adopting quiet livestock handling practices in a flexible year-round grazing system. They all help to improve beef production efficiency.
Here are some measures three beef producers say has benefited their operations:
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.