Winter water for livestock and horses


By Robin Young
PREVIEW Columnists

Water is an essential nutrient livestock require. The importance of animals having access to clean water year-round cannot be over emphasized. 

In the winter, giving livestock access to a reliable water source can be a real problem because of the snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Fifty to 80 percent of the animal’s live weight comes from water. Animals can lose almost all of their body fat and 50 percent of body protein and survive, but the loss of only 10 percent of water can be fatal.

Livestock require a good supply of water in order to maximize performance (feed intake and production). A “good” water supply would be one that has enough water to meet the animal’s needs and one that is of high-enough quality (i.e. clean). Livestock water consumption is based on a variety of factors, which include:

• Size and kind of animal.

• Physiological state of the animals (i.e. a lactating, pregnant or growing animal will require more water intake than one that is not).

• Level of activity — Animals such as horses that are being worked or livestock that are being transported need more water.

• Type of diet — Animals grazing dry pastures will require more water.

• Water quality (i.e. salt content and purity).

• Water temperature. 

• Air temperature. 

 Do not mistakenly believe that animals can meet water requirements by eating snow or licking ice. With daily water requirements varying from 3 gallons (sheep) to 14 gallons (cattle), one can see that livestock would need to spend every waking hour eating snow to meet their requirements. Ice and snow consumption lowers body temperature and will increase maintenance energy needs, so it should be discouraged.

Research has shown that water sources that are warmed to 37 degrees Fahrenheit will encourage animals to drink and help ensure they get adequate water intake. Water tank heaters may be needed to ensure that water sources do not freeze. Always follow manufacturers’ recommendations to prevent fires and electric shocks or electrocution of livestock when using water tank heaters. 

If you do not have access to tank heaters, fresh water needs to be provided several times a day. Breaking ice in water tanks or ponds just once or twice a day may not be enough for an animal to meet its requirements. Ensuring adequate water intake will encourage optimal health and performance of livestock and help prevent serious conditions such as colic and impaction.

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