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Livestock Water - From Green to Clean

We have all heard it said, "99% of our bodies are made up of water, and that it is the second most important nutrient behind oxygen."

There is not much we can do to improve the air quality for our livestock besides opening the barn doors in the winter and keeping them outdoors in the summer, but we can certainly provide water quality.

Clean livestock water is taken for granted and yet it affects so much! From normal digestion and proper flow of feed through the intestines to normal metabolism and proper nutrient absorption. It affects fertility, reproduction, lactation, and milk yields. Quality water is mandatory for maintaining healthy tissue and normal blood volume and also impacts respiration to aid in lowering body temps on a hot day. So, especially in summer, the last thing we want to do is discourage our cattle from drinking plenty of water.

Whether your cattle drink from a trough or a pond it is important to keep it clean of dirt, mud, feces, urine, and even those little bits of feed that drop from their muzzles which can contaminate their water and reduce its palatability.

Livestock naturally avoids drinking water that is even slightly contaminated with feces if given a choice. It’s not only bad to the taste; research warns that it is unhealthy for livestock to consume water containing more than 100 fecal coliforms per 100 ml of water.

An article from the University of Missouri Extension warns; water can serve as a reservoir for many different disease organisms and toxins. That non-aerated, stagnant, or contaminated water may develop blue-green algae which can poison livestock causing muscle tremors, liver damage, and death.

One of the bacterias that can be lurking in urine contaminated water is Leptospirosis which can cause problems ranging from infertility, low milk production, to widespread late-term abortion

But our cattle are not the only ones at risk from contaminated water. Both E. coli and, Leptospirosis can be transmitted to humans by contaminated water causing flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle and gut pain, or worse. The scary part is the cows do not show signs of illness so it is not suspected.

Also, see the related post “Is E-COLI Hiding In Your Water Troughs?”

So how can you get that water from green to clean?

If possible., start out purchasing new water troughs and buckets, not used. if it starts clean and you keep it that way, it's less prone to grow algae.

Next, use water troughs and water buckets for water only. Not only can dual usage add contaminants but scratching the surface of the trough or bucket will give the algae and other contaminants a place to live and grow.

Keep water sources away and separate from feeders. Sloppy animals getting feed or feed contaminants into the water not only means more work for you but can change the taste of the water; discouraging water consumption and spurring the growth of microbes.

Raise your trough off the ground to prevent animals from urinating and defecating in the troughs.

Cover or shade your water trough to reduce the water's exposure to sunlight, therefore keeping temps cooler and slowing algae growth. If placing troughs under a shade tree, keep in mind debris dropping from the tree and causing its contamination.

For water tanks, troughs, or buckets: maintain weekly, at a minimum in hot weather, by emptying all water, and making sure all dirt, algae, and debris are scraped and scrubbed off. Then rinse with a 10% (1 part unscented bleach to 9 parts water) bleach solution and rinse twice more with regular water.

Reduce your urge to procrastinate by keeping a hard bristle scrub brush, putty knife, and a high-pressure nozzle adjacent to each trough as a reminder and quick access.

There are a few interventions that you can add to the water to reduce the frequency of trough cleaning and in the case of farm ponds, help to prevent “yucky” water:

Copper sulfate: used for its natural long-term antimicrobial potency and algae control. It comes in liquid or crystal form and can be used first to kill large quantities of algae in farm ponds and after, smaller amounts can be added regularly to deter algae. This also works well for water tanks and troughs, but beware, copper sulfate can be toxic to sheep!

Zinc sulfate: is also a deterrent for algae growth.

Barley Straw: For a completely safe, non-toxic, chemical-free approach that apparently is safe for all animals, livestock, fish, and plants, Barley Straw is something you may want to consider. Reportedly, it can last up to six months and is safe to use in aquariums, fountains, water troughs, and ponds. There are many affordable “Barley Straw” products out there and some specially designed for livestock tanks and troughs having a durable case to prevent animals from disturbing (eating) the straw.

Bleach (unscented): After scrubbing, scraping, and cleaning, rinse the tank with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) and rinse twice more with clean water. After rinsing, add 2-3 oz. bleach per 50 gallons of water. Adding this weekly should reduce the frequency of doing a full empty and cleaning. Wait at least an hour before you let your animals drink from the trough or container to allow the chlorine time to dissipate. If the water is cooler than 50 degrees increase the time you allow animals to drink to two hours. Chlorine will dissipate faster in hot weather.

Hydrogen Peroxide: Some farmers report good results by using a solution of 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide to their water tanks and troughs. The magic ratio is 8-10 ounces to 1,000 gallons of water. An interesting bonus: the organic farming company AgriSolutions, reports that when 35% Hydrogen Peroxide is used in water containers an increase in milk production, higher butterfat content in milk, less mastitis, and better feed conversion are common results.

Diatomaceous Earth: A Dexter owner shared her secret to beautifully clean water troughs: routine weekly cleaning and a small amount of Diatomaceous Earth in the water to keep the algae down with the purported added benefits of being a natural wormer for her cows. Whether or not science can disprove this, she claims her little cows give an amazing amount of delicious milk, look wonderfully healthy and her water troughs are more apt to stay sparkling clean!

Fish: Fish can be particularly helpful if it is a big water trough or tank that is difficult or impossible to clean. Some livestock or horse owners additionally add fish as a way to reduce mosquito larvae that might be present especially in larger tanks that have less surface movement. The University of Missouri Extension recommends four to six goldfish per 100 gallons of water. The fish typically used is goldfish or koi, or mosquito fish. Whatever your choice, these help control algae growth and larvae. Please remember that fish and bleach do not mix, but maybe fish and "Barley Straw" as a duo may be the way to go? Keep also in mind that in many places in the U.S., fish would not survive the winter and may need to be moved to someplace warmer (like your garage or barn) a few months of the year.

Now you have no excuses for having yucky green drinking water for your cattle and livestock; and the cleaner your water the greener your wallet.



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