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Interpretive Summary: Impacts of water quality on feed and water intake of cattle 

By: Anne Kamiya, MS

Water quality can be problematic in the livestock industry due to reduced fresh water and groundwater supplies. Water quality is determined by salinity with total dissolved solids (TDS) concentration used to determine if the water is considered fresh, saline (defined as having above 1,000 mg/kg TDS), or brackish (defined as having between 1,000 mg/kg and 10,000 mg/kg TDS). Most water consumed by livestock tends to be saline or brackish however the effects water quality might have on overall health, feed intake and digestibility are unknown.

The authors of this recent Journal of Animal Science article evaluated how drinking water quality (fresh versus water moderate to high in TDS) might impact the health and production of cattle.  Cattle were given either fresh water or one of four experimental water treatments with varying concentrations of TDS for 21 days. There was an initial 14-day adaptation period. Results indicated there was no correlation between water quality and water intake. No differences in dry matter intake (DMI), feed intake or feed digestibility were found either based on the quality of drinking water given to cattle in this study. 

Overall, the results of this study do not suggest that there is a significant impact of water quality on feed intake, water intake, dry matter intake or feed digestibility in cattle. However, it is possible that there may be thresholds for TDS tolerance based on breed, diet, environment, or age that were not explored. More detailed and expanded studies into the impacts of water quality on cattle is warranted.

The original article, Water and forage intake, diet digestibility, and blood parameters of beef cows and heifers consuming water with varying concentrations of total dissolved salts, is now viewable in the Journal of Animal Science.