Keep water clean, thawed for livestock

January 30, 2007|by JEFF SEMLER

Last week you might remember, I wrote about the needs of horses during the winter. The major nutrient that is often overlooked regardless of the weather and the animal is water.

As a matter of fact, dehydration can be an often unmonitored problem in cold weather because we humans are not prone to sweat. However, our bodies continue to use water.

So what is this magic elixir? Water is a chemical substance (H2O) that is essential to all known forms of life. It appears colorless to the naked eye in small quantities, though it is actually slightly blue in color. It covers 71 percent of Earth's surface.

From a biological standpoint, water has many distinct properties critical for the abundance of life that set it apart from other substances. It carries out this role by allowing organic compounds to react in ways that ultimately allow replication.


Water is vital both as a solvent and as an essential part of many metabolic processes within the body. Water is also central to photosynthesis and respiration in plants. Photosynthetic cells use the sun's energy to split off water's hydrogen from oxygen to form glucose and release oxygen.

What about our animals?

Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. In warmer weather, check water often throughout the day. For colder weather, the use of a water heater is recommended when a freeze is coming on.

Always keep the water supply clean of feces and bedding materials, even if that requires cleaning your water often throughout the day.

Ice is frozen water but it is not readily available. We humans may like to chew on ice; our animals do not, nor can they access enough water by licking the ice.

Many animals can meet their water needs from snow. However, this is not true if the snow has an ice crust or if the animals are in a production stage that requires more water, such as lactating.

For example, a Holstein cow in peak lactation can require more than 50 gallons of water per day.

Remember, you are the stewards of your animals so keep their water clean, fresh and unfrozen.

Also, as temperatures dip, energy requirements increase if your animals are outside, so please increase feed as well.

Now is a good time as you sit by your fire to prepare for next year so assess your pastures and crops and plan for the warmer days to come.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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