ARE YOU SHORT-CHANGING YOUR COWS
BY NOT MAKING
USU Dairy Extension Specialist
Having adequate water available for your cows is one of the most important, yet overlooked, ways to ensure that your cows are producing to their potential. Milk is 87% water. That means that a cow producing 100 pounds of milk per day is losing 87 pounds of water in milk alone (more than 10 gallons). This doesn't include the loss due to sweat, urine, and feces. During the summer months, if a cow doesn't get enough water, then milk production takes a lower priority and is decreased. Water is also necessary to aid in cooling the animal during hot weather.
Research has repeatedly shown that Dry Matter Intake (DMI) is positively correlated with water intake. This means that as water intake increases, so does DMI (which leads to greater milk production). Getting cows to drink during the hot summer months can help minimize the decrease in milk production. So what might you consider?
Make water ABUNDANT and AVAILABLE:
a. Put a water tank (or two) at the end of the exit alley coming from the parlor. Don't put it where it will create a traffic jam, but have it as close to the exit as possible. The cows go for the water just after milking, plus it keeps them on their feet until the teat sphincter can close. Comments from many farmers suggest that putting the water tank in the holding area is not a good idea because it slows down cow traffic into the parlor. If you are concerned about the waterers overflowing, use a float similar to what the grazing people use in their paddocks.
b. A new idea is to put water right in the parlor. I saw this on a 450-cow dairy in New Hampshire. They cut a 10 or 12 inch PVC pipe to the length of the parlor, capped the ends, and cut it in half lengthwise. This fit over the old grain feeders and was slightly sloped with a plug in the end for easy cleaning. Cows could drink free-choice during milking. This idea may not work as well for some of the rapid-exit parlors, but is worth considering.
c. Pipe the water from your plate cooler out into the tub. This is a good idea for recycling water that may have been going down the drain.
d. Have the waterers accessible. I have seen some situated where the cows have to be mountain goats to get near the water because of the mud, rocks, and holes. I have seen some where only one cow can drink at a time just because of where it was placed. MAKE it EASY for them to get into and back out without creating a conflict. If you are in doubt regarding whether you have enough waterers available, you might consider using the rule of thumb used in new barn construction which is 1 waterer for every 20 cows as a starting point.
Make water CLEAN and FRESH:
This means that regardless of the type of waterer that you are using, it should be cleanable/drainable. The idea now is that water tanks should be dumpable. Usually this means that the water tank is on some type of hinge so that periodically, the farmer can pull a pin out and dump the contents totally out. This makes it easy to make sure clean, fresh water is available for the cows. If you can't dump the waterer, siphon it out with a hose and clean periodically.
The ideal water temperature is still debatable, but cows don't seem to like cold (40 oF), cool is fine during the summer, but tepid seems to be the best. The theory is that you don't want to upset the rumen microbes by giving them a "cold shower."
Two final comments. High levels of iron in the water will decrease intake by cows. Try to either clean up the water supply or find a new source. If cows are jumpy around the water trough or are not drinking, check for stray voltage. They are very sensitive to this.
Clean, fresh, abundant, and available water is a critical factor in being productive. Take time right now to determine if you are ready for the coming days of summer.