How many times have you heard this phrase before? As a dairymen, chances are a lot. We know that approximately 88% of milk is composed of water. This means that if you’re short on water, your cows won’t make as much milk. Furthermore, 60 – 70% of any livestock animal’s body is composed of water. We can’t have healthy animals without it!

This topic is especially pertinent in the summertime. Cows increase their water intake when temperatures increase. Cows do this to dissipate heat as a lot of water is used when cows pant. This evaporative cooling drops their body temperature. Additionally, the amount of water cattle need just to function (metabolic water needs) increase during this period of time.

How do we determine if our dairy’s water quality and quantity are sufficient?


Measure it! Each cow in your barn should consume 25 gallons of water per head. This will vary with milk production. If you have a water meter on your farm, you can measure approximately how much water is going through the cows (if this is on a separate meter than the wash cycle).

As a rule, you should have two water sources available per pen of cattle. The waterers should be no further than 50 feet from the feed bunk.

You should have 2 – 4 inches of linear water space per cow in every group. For instance, if you have 100 cows in a group, between your two waterers, the circumference where cows can access the water should be no less than 200 inches. If your waterer is against a gate, you should not count the gated area’s circumference as cows cannot access that side of the waterer.

Coming back from the parlor, you should have 2 inches of water space for every cow stall you have in your parlor. A double 16 parlor should (32 cows total), should have 64 inches of water space.

For heifers, you should have at least one watering space per 20 animals with a minimum of 2 waterers per group.


We will discuss water quality in the next newsletter segment, but just as a teaser –

Water quality is measured 5 ways

(1) Odor and taste
(2) Physiochemical properties such as pH, total dissolved solids, and hardness
(3) Toxic compounds (nitrates, heavy metals)
(4) Excess minerals
(5) Bacteria and algae

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