Don’t compromise, your cows need quality clean water every time

Wednesday March 18 2020
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A man uses piped water on a farm. A lactating cow will drink 40 to 60 litres of water per day and this could be doubled during heat stress and is drastically reduced in cold weather. FILE PHOTO | NMG


The need for clean water on a dairy farm cannot be over emphasised. Quality water comes at a price and many farmers are unable to provide it in sufficient quantities to their animals, more so during the dry spell.

Water usage at the farm can be categorised into three broad groups namely,

a) Physiological or direct usage which comprises of animals drinking water.

The quantity of water intake by an animal is determined by factors such as environmental temperature, level of dry matter feed intake and the percentage of the diet dry matter, breed, body size, age, level of production, level of mineral intake, type of products produced and how active the animal is.

During hot and dry periods, animals are heat-stressed and will drastically increase water intake.

b) Sanitation or indirect usage required for the general operation of the dairy facility. This include cleaning cows’ udder before milking, cleaning the milking machine, utensils, milking parlour and the zero-grazing unit, milk cooling and household usage.

c) Irrigation water for crop and fodder production. Growing own fodder greatly reduces the cost of production. Regardless of the farm’s location, rain-fed crop and fodder production is the most economical though farmers engage in irrigation if rain is unreliable.

Dairy cows and the milking facility will require a reliable supply of high quality fresh water continuously. Drinking water is necessary as it forms the main component of the animal’s body contributing to more than 80 per cent of the weight.


It forms the main component of the body fluids, facilitating digestion, is the main transport media for digested nutrients and waste excretion from the body, acts as a lubricant, facilitates enzymatic reactions in the body, gives shape to the organs, tissues and the animal itself, helps regulate body temperature and forms the main component of the milk produced.

A lactating cow will drink 40 to 60 litres of water per day and this could be doubled during heat stress and is drastically reduced in cold weather.

The common problems related to drinking water on dairy farms include cows walking long distances for watering, poor watering frequency, insufficient drinking space, too cold water, excess dissolved minerals and foreign materials such as leaves, dug, urine, soils and water plants (green algae).

Dairy cows prefer warm water and will always avoid cold water at all cost. Cold water is one of major problems leading to reduced production during the cold season apart from the animal using more energy to maintain body temperature.

If possible, avoid metal water troughs and roofing over the water troughs. Allow direct sun heating on the water trough and in extreme cold conditions, it may be advisable to warm the water.

Excess iron in water leads to toxicity which results to increased health problems and reduction in milk production.

High levels of sulphate and chloride will greatly reduce water consumption by the cows, it affects their health and also reduce milk production.

Farmers are greatly advised to make regular water analyses to ensure the mineral levels are within the required levels.

Water recycling options such as use of cleaning water to flush the zero-grazing unit walk ways and the use of zero-grazing slurry mixed with water for irrigation can greatly reduce the overall amount of water used.

The writer is based at the Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University.