Effective water management for dairy cattle in heat stress

Water is essential for dairy cattle, especially during periods of heat stress. As temperatures rise, so does the need for water consumption. For every 1°C increase in environmental temperature, water consumption increases by 1.2 liters per day. Therefore, multiple water points should be available across the enclosures or pasture to ensure heat stress cows can drink when they want to.  

Here are some effective water strategies to ensure your dairy cattle stay hydrated and healthy during heat stress: 

Provide easy access to water points

Ensure there are enough water points available to all cows, offering high-quality water. Since cattle are suction drinkers, they prefer to drink water from an open surface. However, the water quality is at risk due to the large open water reserves. Feces from cattle, birds, and rodents, along with litter, dust, and leftover food, can easily contaminate drinking troughs. Large trough troughs should therefore be cleaned regularly, especially in warm temperatures, to counteract harmful biofilm or algae formation.

To meet the hydration needs of the herd, ensure at least one open trough, 120 cm wide, is available per 20 cows. Alternatively, install two quick drinkers capable of delivering 20 liters of water per minute each. Hang the drinkers at a height of 60 cm and maintain a water depth of at least 7 cm to allow the cows to easily reach and drink enough water.

Cows should never have to walk more than 20 meters to reach water. Placing shade structures near water points can encourage cows to drink more frequently, as they will be more comfortable and less stressed by the heat. A high-performance cow that produces around 40 liters of milk per day needs three to four liters of water to produce one liter of milk in hot weather.

Offer chilled water

Offering fresh, chilled water at a temperature of around 10°C can help reduce heat stress in dairy cattle. During periods of high temperatures, cows are comfortable drinking up to 250 liters of water per day. Cows can only sweat to a limited extent because they have relatively few sweat glands - especially around ​​the shoulder blade. Cows have the possibility of giving off heat through the moist air they breathe - the animals begin to breathe more quickly in order to cool themselves down. Chilled water can help lower the cow's body temperature.

Monitor water consumption and quality

Keeping track of water consumption can help identify potential issues with hydration early on. Signs such as reduced feed intake, declining milk production, and changes in milk composition may indicate insufficient water supply or intake. If there is a significant drop in water consumption, it could signal a problem with water quality or availability that requires immediate attention.

Besides monitoring water quantity, regularly test the water quality to ensure it meets the hygiene standards required for your cattle's health. This is particularly important in warmer weather when the risk of contamination is higher. Cleaning the drinkers several times per week is recommended to prevent any buildup of contaminants and maintain water quality.

Stay ahead of heat stress

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