As daily temperatures start to decline, most producers begin to focus on delivering stored forages to their livestock. Often, at this time the thought of an animal’s water needs are discounted. However, even in colder temperatures, water requirements of livestock are critical to maintain optimum animal performance. Winter brings the challenge of providing water to livestock while battling frozen plumbing that delivers water.
An understanding of how much water is required by animals during the colder parts of the year is needed when considering winter watering systems. Factors that affect water intake include: environmental temperature, feed
During cold periods, livestock energy requirements increase to maintain body temperature. To meet the increased energy requirements, animals increase dry matter intake (DMI) if they physically can consume more feed. Water intake affects animal DMI and if it is limited due to a frozen, inaccessible water source, animals will not be able compensate for the colder environmental temperatures. Excessively cold water temperature will also decrease water intake, as well as increase energy requirements by lowering body temperature. The University of Kentucky Animal Diagnostic Center reported a few years back that many livestock deaths in the winter are caused by dehydration due to low water intake.
What is the best method for providing water to livestock during the coldest days of the year? Depending on several factors, different options rise to the top of the list. First, what is the actual water source? Will a pond or stream be used? Are waterers going to be installed? Is rural water available? Surface water sources, like ponds and streams, require a lot of management, especially during freezing temperatures. If water is flowing, such as a spring-fed stream, this task is not as labor intensive. However, if surface water sources are used, one must take steps to ensure that the water quality downstream is maintained and that streambank quality is preserved.
Large stock tanks with greater capacity are another option that can be considered. These also need to be checked often to allow livestock access to water. To limit the amount of ice accumulating, a continuous flow valve could be installed to prevent freezing. This also requires an overflow directing water away from the tank to prevent mud.
Is electricity available at the winter feeding site? If so, the number of watering options increases. An electric heater to keep water thawed can be added to almost any watering system. In some cases, this simply might involve adding a plug-in heater that installs through the drain plug of a stock tank. Also, the addition of plug-in heat tape affixed to interior pipes and water bowls of automatic waterers are options that could be considered.
Another option to provide water to livestock when electricity is not available is through the utilization of geothermal heat. A variety of watering systems have been developed to harvest geothermal heat from the ground below the tank, keeping water thawed and available to livestock even in the coldest of environments. Most of these waterers use heat tubes buried deep into the ground, allowing for geothermal heat to rise and keep water supply lines and the drinking trough thawed. While these systems do a good job of keeping pipes and floats from freezing they are not ice-free. Depending on the amount of animal traffic using the waterer and environmental temperature, there is often a thin layer of ice over the drinking area on very cold days that must be removed.
No matter which method is used, a clean and consistently available water source is critical. Proper evaluation of where and how to winter livestock could make providing water easier during the coldest part of the year depending on available water sources.
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