Good, clean water: What it can do for livestock

From feed to finishing, farmers and ranchers have mountains of factors to consider when raising their livestock to be healthy and productive. It’s an extensive job, to put it simply.

One aspect, however, which should not be overlooked is water quality.

When animals intake poor quality water, major problems can happen. Pathogens may be transferred to the animal, and animals may consume less water if there is a quality issue, causing them to gain less weight and be more prone to illness. Low water intake is a problem especially for dairy cows, as it results in decreased milk production. It’s also essential for calves to have access to clean water, as water helps the rumen develop healthily, which improves grain fermentation and starter intake.

Obstacles to water cleanliness

When it comes to water, there are numerous obstacles to cleanliness, including minerals, manure and algae. Biofilms are another one of your worst enemies.

Biofilms are bacterial colonies encased in protective polysaccharide shells. They frequently accumulate on surfaces that have contact with water and food. Thanks to biofilms in pipes and containers, perfectly clean water can become not-so-clean as it passes through a water system. This was the case for one dairy farm in the Netherlands that used an electrolysis system to disinfect water, reports All About Feed. Though the water was initially safe for consumption, it tested far above recommended safety levels for animals once it reached the storage tank, in some cases over three times as much. After improving its sanitation plan, the farm found increased milk production in its cows.

(The farm tested their water for adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is a residue left by all living and formerly living cells. ATP is measured in relative light units (RLU). For more on this cool technology, which is based on the same science that makes fireflies glow, check out this blog post.)

How do you keep things clean?

There are two basic steps to biosecurity: cleaning and disinfecting.

Cleaning removes all the dirt and crud that you can see with your eyes. Cleaning products help by, essentially, making water wetter so the nasty stuff slides away. To keep water systems clean, it’s recommended that they be drained completely and flushed (including any bowls, nipples, tanks, etc.) and filled with a detergent sterilizer. After sitting for two hours, the system can be drained and refilled with water.

While cleaning may remove at least 95% of organic material, it’s important to also disinfect in order to eliminate all remaining microbes and ensure complete sanitation.

Dr. Stephen B. Blezinger offers a few other considerations for improving livestock access to water:

  • Make sure you have enough water to go around. Every 10 cows need at least 2 feet of accessible linear water space.
  • Watering devices should be spaced appropriately away from stream banks.
  • Research has shown that heifers with access to fresh water, from a well or a spring, gained 23% more weight than heifers drinking stagnant pond water. Animals are also more likely to drink cooler water.
  • Make sure to clean and disinfect water systems frequently for optimal health and productivity in livestock.

Neogen offers comprehensive products to ensure livestock safety and facility sanitation. For more information on our animal safety products, click here. For information on our sanitation testing products, click here.

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