Dairy Cows Need Lots of Water

US - “Drink lots of water” is an adage that applies to all of us—and to dairy cows. Milk production and herd health suffer if cows don’t get enough water.
calendar icon 8 April 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

The amount of water a cow drinks depends on her size and milk yield, quantity of dry matter consumed and the temperature and relative humidity. Other factors are quality and availability of the water, amount of moisture in her feed, and the sodium, salt and protein content of the diet.

If your cows have inadequate water intake, you may see signs like dense manure, low urine output, infrequent drinking, dehydration from toxins and fever.

What are some causes of cows not drinking enough water? One of the main reasons can be crowding around the waterers, or the waterers are not delivering the water fast enough. If milk production has dropped dramatically, it’s time to take action and evaluate the water supply. The flow rate and watering space are two key areas to check.

Flow rate. Cows should never have to wait for water to be available. There must be enough tanks, troughs or fountains so most cows can drink soon after milking or eating. Use valves that permit 15 gallons per minute of flow at 20 pounds of pressure. For stall barns, drinking cups need to be relatively trouble-free.

Watering space. According to Michigan State University researchers, a minimum of one watering space or two feet of tank perimeter for every 15 to 20 cows is recommended. Provide two feet of linear trough space per cow in return alleys or breezeways from the milking parlor. Cows will line up side by side and drink, just like they do at the feed bunk, and they like to have enough space to back away from the trough after drinking.

Cows drink 50 to 60 percent of their total daily water intake immediately after milking. Waterers should be within 50 feet of the feed bunk or at every crossover in the freestall barn. Make sure there is no dead end alley where the water source is located (this can be the case in some remodeled freestall barns). For grazing operations, water should be located at the milking parlor exit and in each paddock so that animals are always within 600 feet of clean, fresh water sources.

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