Extension and Ag Research News


Water Developments Enhance Livestock, Environmental Health

Adequate water is critical for livestock health and production.

Now that spring is here, many livestock producers are planning for the upcoming grazing season, setting management goals, and determining what practices and improvements are best suited to achieve these goals.

“When determining what improvements will give you the most bang for your buck, you may want to consider livestock water developments to improve access to water,” North Dakota State University Extension Service livestock environmental stewardship specialist Miranda Meehan says.

Common water developments include troughs, pumps, wells and pipelines.

Water is the limiting factor for many livestock operations in North Dakota. Meehan says that installing water developments can:

  • Increase grazeable acreage and extend the grazing season
  • Allow producers to utilize crop residues and cover crops for forage
  • Improve grazing distribution

Distribution and utilization can be improved further by cross-fencing to creating additional pastures in a grazing systems.

“Through time, these improvements, combined with appropriate management, have the potential to increase the carrying capacity of your operation, allowing for an increase in herd size and/or increased drought resistance with stockpiled forages,” Meehan says.

Providing adequate water to livestock also is critical for animal health and production; a 10 percent loss of body water is fatal to most species of domestic livestock. Water accounts for more than 98 percent of all molecules in the body and between 50 and 81 percent of an animal’s total body weight at maturity.

Water consumption can be impacted by water quality. Livestock that are provided poor-quality water may have reduced water and feed intake, resulting in reduced production.

Studies have shown that beef cattle allowed free access to ponds and dugouts have lower average daily gains in comparison with those provided water from the same source in a trough. Livestock whose primary water sources are ponds and dugouts have a greater risk of contracting illnesses such as giardia, leptospirosis and cyanobacterial poisoning, compared with livestock drinking from a trough.

In addition to the improvement in livestock production and health that can be attributed to water developments, they also have been linked to enhanced water quality, according to Meehan. The fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria are the leading causes of poor surface water quality in the state’s streams and rivers. The primary source of these bacteria is livestock manure and urine.

“Developing off-stream water reduces livestock use of surface water, improving water quality by reducing bacteria, nutrient levels and sediment loads due to decreased bank erosion,” Meehan says.

For more information on this topic, check out these NDSU Extension publications:

To learn more about cost-share opportunities for water developments, contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office, Soil Conservation District or conservation groups.

NDSU Agriculture Communication - March 24, 2016

Source:Miranda Meehan, (701) 231-7683, miranda.meehan@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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