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How much water should you give your cattle?

Smart Harvest By Dr Othieno Joseph | January 18th 2021 at 10:00:00 GMT +0300
For healthy flock, water is supposed to be supplied ad lib (all the time); and animals will drink as per the body requirement. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Happy New year. Thank you for helping us learn more on animal husbandry.

I have been an ardent reader since I started my farming venture some years back. I come from Kitui and water is scarce both for livestock and home use. While I endeavour to provide my sheep and two dairy cows with sufficient water, sometimes, I face challenges. That is why I am asking, is there a minimum daily water requirement for animals?

[Onesimus Mutuga]


Dear Onesimus,

Thanks for reading the column. Water is an essential nutrient and a critical factor in livestock husbandry. Water plays a key role in digestion, production, regulating body temperature and excretion of waste from the body. Inadequate water supply to livestock therefore immediately affects its health and productivity.

Yes, water is supposed to be supplied ad lib (all the time); and animals will drink as per the body requirement.

The following factors determine the amount of water an animal drinks at any given time.

i) Animal Type

Different animals have different daily intakes. This is determined by physiological requirements as relates to the genetic make up of the animal. For example, goats and sheep can survive much better in environments with low availability of water. An observation of the feacal waste from these two species shows that sheep and goats are better retainers of water. The interspecies differences in water intake is also determined by the body sizes. The larger the body size the more the intake, so cows will require more water than sheep and goats.

ii) Moisture content of feeds

Dry feeds like hay or pelleted concentrates will increase daily water intake of animals. Feeds with high moisture content for example silage will lower amount of water taken. Feeds with a lot of moisture like young grass can also cause diarrhoea.

iii) Production level

Milk is composed of 70 per cent water. Animals that produce more milk need relatively more water intake.

iv) Prevailing Temperature

The hotter it is, the more an animal’s water needs. This is because the body will be fighting to regulate the temperature downwards and thus losing water.

Heat is a form of stress that reduces feed intake and pushes the animal to get its gut full by drinking water. Ambient temperature are also determined by the prevailing season.

v) Age of the animal

Young animals require more water to sustain a higher growth rate. At birth, the body may contain up to 80 per cent water by composition.

But as the animals grow and deposit fat and increase their muscles weight so does the water requirement go down. But care should be taken when giving calves water because they can easily suffer from water intoxication.

Here is a table on how much water animals should be given.

[The writer is the Vet of the Year Award winner and works in the Division of Communication and Vet Advisory Services within the Directorate of Veterinary Services; [email protected]]


Livestock Farming
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