Clean Drinking Water Affects Calves

Dr. Allen Young
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

Over the years we have emphasized the importance of maintaining clean drinking water for all animals on the dairy, including calves. Research conducted here at USU by Dr. Randy Wiedmeier shows the importance of this simple process.

Holstein bull calves were put on a study beginning at 2 to 7 days of age, were weaned at 60 days and maintained for another 100 days until marketed. Drinking buckets were emptied and rinsed (not washed with soap and water) either daily, every 7-days or every 14-days until calves were weaned. After that, all animals were treated the same (ration and common pen).

Calves whose drinking water was changed daily gained 9 lbs more by the time they were weaned than those changed every 14-days. Even though this doesn�t sound like much, it represents a little over 5% of the total body weight. Calves whose buckets were changed every 7-days weighed about 5 lbs less than those whose water was changed daily. These effects were seen primarily in the calves raised during the summer and winter months.

The interesting thing was that even though all calves were treated alike after being weaned, the difference in weight maintained itself and became even more pronounced. At the time of marketing calves whose water was changed every 14-days weighed 30 lbs less than those whose water was changed daily. Calves whose water was changed every 7-days were 15 lbs lighter. Again, there were the same seasonal effects as before. The animals whose water was changed daily and started as calves in the fall had the highest rate of gain and final sale weight.

If one uses a figure of $1/lb live weight, then changing water daily versus every two weeks is worth $30 more per animal. If you multiply this figure by the number of animals that could be marketed, you can see that this can become a significant income for essentially little extra effort on your part. In addition, animals whose water was changed every 14-days had significantly more incidents of being doctored for scours or a respiratory problem than the other two groups. It would be interesting to see if washing with soap and water would improve the results of this study.

The take-home message is that having clean water available for your calves can result in increased income and fewer health problems. Maybe it�s time you evaluated your situation and made some changes.

For more information contact Allen Young at or (435) 797-3763. ©