7 June 1996

Are your cows well watered?

POOR access to water troughs could be restricting drinking supplies for cows at grass.

For each extra litre of milk produced at least 0.9 litres (0.2gal) of water is required, says Dairy Research and Consultancy adviser Greg Beeton, based at Myerscough College, Preston, Lancs.

"Cows averaging 35 litres can require up to 100 litres of drinking water a day," he says. This requirement will increase in hot conditions.

Mr Beeton cites research to show that average yielders require at least 4kg of drinking water for each kg of dry matter consumed. Diets containing alkali-treated feeds and mineral salts also increase water demands, he says.

In fact dairy cow drinking water requirements may vary from 20 litres (4gal) to over 100 litres (22gal) a cow a day.

"Cows normally drink between two and five times and up to seven times in 24 hours. This drinking routine will vary depending on whether cows are housed or grazing.

"The grazing system can also have a major influence on water intakes. Cows are less willing to leave a narrow band of strip grazed grass to search for water than to seek it in a set stocking situation. This causes bottlenecks at milking times. To reduce the chance of cows not taking in water, provide sufficient troughs and position them for easy access within the grazing field. Flow rate must be adequate for a rapid refill at periods of peak demand."

Mr Beeton warns that competition between animals, especially at peak demand, means the less dominant fail to satisfy their water needs. This, alongside the stress and bullying that may occur, will decrease production.

He also points out that cows are unwilling to walk more than 250m (273yd) for water. This is reduced further by extremes of weather, or lameness.

DRC has a booklet Efficient Use of Water On Dairy Farms (01995-640611). &#42

This slurry tanker, some flexible hose, a ball-valve and a bath-tub ensure cows at Mike Lemmeys Liberty Farmhave sufficient water.