Lactating cows drink 4–5 pounds of water per pound of milk produced — 40 gallons for a cow milking 80 pounds — and they consume half of their daily water intake soon after leaving the parlor. Therefore, both water quality and availability are critical to maintaining health and production in dairy cows. Reduced water intake will hurt production faster than any other nutritional deficiency. Water consumption not only directly impacts milk production, it is also a major driver of feed intake. In summer months, heat stressed cattle can as much as double their water needs.
Ideally, a farm should aim to have 1–2 feet of linear water trough space per the number of cows that exit the parlor at one time in the return alley. In the barns, cows should not have to walk more than 50 feet for water and there should be a minimum of two water sources per group of cows.
Water troughs need routine maintenance to perform properly. They should be emptied and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with dilute chlorine weekly. Choosing waterers that are easy to empty and scrub will improve compliance. Take a moment to look at your water troughs on a hot, summer afternoon. If the water doesn’t look like something you want to drink, it is probably affecting intake in your cows, as well. Dirty water troughs are not only unappealing to cattle, they can be a point of transmission for disease-causing bacteria including E coli and Salmonella. Weekly cleaning of water troughs is a cheap and easy task to add to your farm routine that can make a huge difference to the comfort and productivity of your cows.