Feb. 10 2014 08:47 AM

Simple tweaks to water access may boost your farm's milk check.

by Ali Enerson, Hoard's Dairyman Special Publications Editor

Fresh, available drinking water is essential for healthy, high-producing dairy cows. A 1,500-pound lactating dairy cow consumes approximately 25 to 35 gallons of water per day. Drinking water meets 80 to 90 percent her total water needs. Of that percentage, 30 to 50 percent is consumed within an hour after milking.

Knowing that, ensuring that enough clean water is readily available in all weather conditions is critical. As we're in the midst of cold weather season, be sure to check your waterers regularly to make sure they are in working order. Upgrade a heating element, check for corroded valves or clogged pipes to be proactive and avoid unnecessary headaches.

If you're unsure if your cows are subject to low water intake, look for some of these signs from the article Water: The Often Forgotten Nutrient:
  • Firm, constipated manure
  • Low urine output
  • High packed-cell volume or hematocrit in blood
  • Considerable drops in milk production
  • Drinking of urine or pooled water
If you suspect you have low water intake, consider adding some additional waterers that would be readily accessible immediately after milking. Make sure your current waterers can keep up when multiple cows are drinking from it; water flow of 2 gallons per minute per cow that can fit around the waterer is recommended. Also consider social behaviors, dominant cows can be territorial and may deter others from drinking at the same time. Adding a second waterer to a pen may be a simple solution that makes a big difference for your farm.

Cooperative Extension Service of New Mexico State University's article Water for Dairy Cattle provides some additional information.

Ali blog footerThe author , Ali Enerson, was the special publications editor, responsible for books, plans, distribution of the e-newsletter and various internal communication pieces. She grew up on a 60-cow dairy in northwest Wisconsin, and is a graduate of University of Wisconsin–Madison with a degree in life sciences communications.