How important is water to cattle?

As humans we understand that water is a vital source of life; we need clean, drinkable water to survive. Our bodies are made up of 60% of it after all.  According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine the recommended amount for humans is 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women. But what about our cattle, is water as important to their survival? Well, similar to us humans, cattle cannot go more than one week without water. This can be compared to food which most livestock can survive up to two months without. 

How much water do cattle need?

The answer depends on a few different variables. Firstly, the ambient temperature and weather conditions will impact their need for water. The heat, humidity and wind will all have a part to play in determining how much water the cattle need. Further factors include the size, weight and age of the cattle. The feed that the cattle consume must also be considered and whether it contains much water, for example, pasture or silage. Young cattle also need plenty of water even when they are milk fed. It is very important to note that cows require nearly twice as much water when lactating. A nursing cow needs approximately 11-18 gallons of water versus a dry cow which needs 6-15 gallons.

According to UNL Beef, consumption will range from about 1 gallon per pound of body weight during the winter to 2 gallons per pound of body weight during very hot weather. Cattle should have access to water ‘as desired’ in order to satisfy their needs. 

Does the water need to be high quality?

The simple answer is yes. Poor water quality will have a negative effect on the animal’s health which in turn will cause a loss of production. It is sometimes possible to detect poor quality water by the color or smell, however, it is not always the case. Water containing salt or toxins can appear completely normal, which is why it is good practice for producers to have their water tested.  A quality analysis can test for total coliform bacteria, pH, total dissolved solids, salinity, hardness, nitrates, sulfates and toxins.If the cattle are drinking from tanks, it is important that those tanks are regularly cleaned. If, on the other hand, they drink from ponds or streams, try to limit those access points. 

If you have any questions or queries please do not hesitate to send them onto us. You can contact us by phone on (530) 949-4241 or send us an email at

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