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Impacts of Water on Reproduction

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The most important nutrient, water plays an important role in cattle health and reproductive performance.

RUIDOSO, NEW MEXICO (Aug. 29, 2018) — Water. Good old H20. It is the most important nutrient. Water comprises 60%-70% of the body weight of an adult bovine beast. In its early stages, an embryo is about 90% water. It plays an essential role in synthesis of body fluid, thermoregulation, osmotic pressure regulation and waste elimination. Water is essential to production, to reproduction, to life.

Craig Gifford

Water consumption by cattle is highly variable, ranging from 6 gallons to 15 gallons per day for a dry pregnant cow, and from 11 gallons to 18 gallons daily for a cow nursing a calf, explains Craig Gifford, New Mexico State University.

During the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle workshop Aug. 29-30 in Ruidoso, N.M., New Mexico State University Beef Cattle Specialist Craig Gifford talked about water and the livestock water-quality problems ranchers face.

Gifford explained that water consumption by cattle is highly variable, ranging from 6 gallons to 15 gallons per day for a dry pregnant cow, and from 11 gallons to 18 gallons daily for a cow nursing a calf.

Water intake may vary for a variety of reasons. For example, cattle may drink less while grazing green, succulent forage that contains a lot of water. Intake may lessen when available water is of poor quality.

“We know what bad things happen when animals become dehydrated, but there hasn’t been much study of the effects of suboptimal intake — not dehydration, but consumption that is too low to support optimal performance,” said Gifford. “We do know that reduced production can occur, and it has negative effects on reproduction, too.”

According to Gifford, one of the more common water-quality problems stems from high levels of dissolved sulfates. He called this problem a “double-edged” sword. First, because it impacts palatability, water intake is reduced. Because water helps drive dry-matter intake, forage consumption may be reduced. Secondly, there may be a risk of toxicity from sulfates ingested with the water that cattle do drink.

Gifford said moderately high sulfate levels (greater than 2,000 ppm) can have detrimental effects on animal performance, including reproduction. Reduced cow body weight is not uncommon. Breed-up can be hindered, resulting in fewer calves born in the early part of calving season and late breed-up again, during the following breeding season.

Explaining how sulfates in water can create antagonisms with other minerals, including copper and molybdenum, Gifford said high sulfates can cause reduced liver stores of copper. Reduced availability of copper hampers the animal’s immune system.

“A healthy immune system is important to maintenance of pregnancy,” added Gifford.

Gifford advised ranchers to test water for sulfates, and test feed and forage supplies to become aware of potential combined effects. He also recommended that producers seek and use a supplemental mineral formulation suited to their local conditions. In areas where water contains high levels of sulfates, mineral supplements with increased copper may be warranted.

For details on Gifford’s presentation — including the proceedings, PowerPoint and video of his presentation — visit the Newsroom at

Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of Angus Media. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact the Angus Media editorial team at 816-383-5200.