ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A long time ago, while I was sitting in an Animal Nutrition presentation, the speaker started his lecture with a question. “What are some limiting nutrients in dairy cow diets?” Someone answered energy, another shouted calcium, and one person even mumbled “selenium in calves” from the front row. The presenter continued to say, “What if I told you that water could be a limiting nutrient in any animal’s diets?” The audience sat in silence, wrapping their heads around the idea that this seemingly abundant resource could play such a critical role in any animal’s performance.
Truth be told, this concept has fascinated me for some time. I think a majority of people take for granted animal performance in the presence of water. A 10% loss of body water is fatal for most species of domesticated livestock. Though water is a critical nutrient for all animals, ranging from rabbits all the way up to the prize-winning beef steer, that amount of water varies. Factors that play a role in how much water an animal needs depend on the environment, growth rate, reproduction stage, lactation, and diet, to name a few. When animals energy demands surpass maintenance (ex: peak lactation, growth, temperature extremes), they need additional food and quality water. When water is limiting due to accessibility (ice covering the waterer, a dried-up pond, stray voltage, etc.), it can result in dehydration. Broadly, this can be observed through weight loss, tightening of the skin, sunken eyes, and lethargy, leading to reduced food consumption and performance.
An animal doesn’t need just any old source of hydration. Water should contain minimal amounts of impurities, such as nitrates, sulfates, and microorganisms. These contaminants can appear due to fertilizers, animal manure or wastes, crop residues, to name a few. Water quality can be accessed by sending samples to a water quality laboratory. Naturally, your continued relationship with your veterinarian should contain a general plan for acceptable water quality and continued monitoring.
By allowing access to clean, fresh water, livestock producers can make it much easier for each animal to increase their performance and reach their true potential. In conclusion, we should all drink some clean, refreshing water.
If you have any questions or would like more information please feel free to contact me at 320-255-6169, ext. 3 or email@example.com.
— Dana Adams, University of Minnesota Extension
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