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Home / Livestock

Water: The neglected nutrient for animals

Water is the most essential nutrient for livestock production and is needed for numerous processes, such as the regulation of body temperature, growth, digestion, reproduction, metabolism, lubrication of joints, excretion, eyesight among others.

Water is an excellent solvent for amino acids, minerals, glucose, vitamins, and metabolic waste.

It constitutes about 70-80 per cent at birth and 65-70 per cent of adult live weight of livestock depending on age, fat cover and physiological condition.

How much water do animals need?

Water requirements are influenced by; including gestation, lactation, rate and composition of gain, type of diet, activity, environmental temperature, and feed intake.

The intake of water from feeds plus the ad libitum consumption of free water is the equivalent of the water requirements in livestock.

Ad libitum access to clean, fresh water is essential to maintaining feed intake in livestock.

The normal range of water consumption for adult animals has been summarized as follows,

Livestock Type

Water Consumption In Liters/Day

Dairy cattle

30-80 per head


40-50 per 100 birds = 0.5 liter per bird


40-75 per 100 birds = 0.75 liter per bird


15-25 per head

Sheep and goats

5-20 per head

Beef cattle

35-60 per head


24-36 per head


Twice a day as much as they can drink (10-25)


50-150 Milliliters (=0.1 liters) water per kilogram bodyweight (small cup) 


every 5-8 days as much as they can drink (up to 100 liter or one third of body weight) daily about 15-30 liters


Water loss occurs via saliva, urine, feces, milk, sweating, by evaporation from body surfaces and the respiratory tract.

The amount of water lost from the body of an animal is influenced by the activity of the animal, air temperature, humidity, respiratory rate, water intake, feed consumption, milk production and other factors.

How water quality affects intake

Water provided to livestock should be clean, cool, plentiful and easily available during hot climate. A key consideration in the nutrition of livestock is evaluation of the quality of drinking water.

Water quality is an important issue in the production and health of animal. Limiting water availability to livestock will lower production rapidly and harshly.

The five properties most often considered in assessing water quality for livestock are: organoleptic properties (odor and taste), physiochemical properties (pH, total dissolved solids, total dissolved oxygen and hardness), presence of toxic compounds (heavy metals, toxic minerals), presence of excess minerals or compounds (nitrates, sodium sulfates and iron) and presence of bacteria.

The water provided to livestock needs to be good quality to maintain production. Water quality may be altered by contaminants, such as mineral salts, toxins, heavy metals, microbial loads, debris, and agricultural practices.

Most contaminants will reduce water intake, which results in a reduction in feed intake and a loss of production. However, if the water or feed contains increased salt, water intake will increase as the animal attempts to eliminate the excess sodium.

High sulfate water tastes bitter and water intake may be reduced. High concentrations of sulfate may also cause a reduction in copper availability in livestock, which can lead to copper deficiency.

Water with high nitrate concentrations can also be toxic. You should especially be aware of water nitrate concentrations when feeding forages with high nitrate concentrations.

High bacteria concentrations in water can cause infertility, foot rot, low milk production, and other reproductive problems. Stagnant water that is contaminated with manure and other contaminants can develop blue-green algae, which may be toxic to livestock.

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