How to Keep Your Cattle Hydrated

Posted by Austin Allgaier at

We all know the importance of keeping livestock well hydrated.  Be it a dry summer or an excessively cold winter, making sure that your cattle have a constant supply of clean water is imperative.  Understanding the water intake needs of your herd will help you to keep them healthy and producing. When looking at your cattle you should keep in mind that nearly 60 to 70 percent of their body weight is made up of water. To put this into perspective, cattle can survive for nearly 2 months without food, however after 7 days without water your livestock will fail and you will lose them to dehydration. (University of Ohio) Knowing what to look for to make sure your livestock are well hydrated as well as knowing how to ensure that they always have access to adequate water is key to keeping your herd healthy and well producing.

Signs of Dehydration

It’s very important that you monitor your livestock to ensure that they are properly hydrated.  The first step in making sure that they are getting a proper amount of water daily is to check their physical condition.  Dry mucus membranes are a sure indicator that cattle are not getting enough water, noses and eyes should be moist and tongues and gums should be wet and slimy to the touch. In addition cattle should not have a tight skinned appearance, this dry tight skin is an indication that the cow is not taking in enough water.  It is often the first sign that you’ll see indicating that there is trouble with your herd. 

In the final stages of dehydration you will see more drastic signs such as weight loss, lethargy, and depression or lack of eating.  If you have cattle that have gotten to this point, it is imperative that you contact a large animal vet to assist you before the results are tragic.   Dehydration such as this is most often caused by a lack of access to good clean water, droughts that have caused poor foliage quality, or refusal to drink after having been relocated and find the new water supply to be distasteful or unappealing.

Keeping water clean

Know that the most important thing is keeping the water supply clean, in order to do so you may find that you need to occasionally clean the water tanks that your water supply is kept in.  This is a huge undertaking and should only be done when you can ensure an alternate water supply while you are cleaning the first tank.  You will want to completely drain the tank, and pressure wash if possible, or wipe with rags if not, to get any built up sand, dirt, or algae from the tank.  Once this has been completed you’ll want to rinse the tank with apple cider vinegar to kill any remaining algae or bacteria before refilling the tank.  Miraco Watering products are very effective at helping you keep your water clean.

Miraco Waterers

Alternatively, you can stock the tank with a dozen or so goldfish, these do not need to be any type of fancy koi or the like, just plain old feeder goldfish are cheap and easy to keep alive in your tank throughout the year.  Some ranchers have had luck with using swimming pool chlorine in their stock tanks, but this can cause some herds to stop drinking the water, so you might want to look at other alternatives first.

More animal friendly alternative than chlorine are copper sulfate additives which look somewhat like blue pebbles, copper has some health benefits to cattle and does not impact the taste of the water. Lastly, you may find benefits in the use of burlap bags filled with barley straw.  Not only do these small bags help keep the algae level down they are also found to keep mosquito and fly larvae levels at a reduced level.  This alone maybe something to consider when choosing your method of keeping your cows water clean.

Keep the water flowing

The question then becomes how do you keep your water supply adequate for your herd?  Knowing you herd is the first step; how many head of cattle do you have, what is there stage in life, and what time of year is?  Once you have these questions you are able to determine how to best supply your herd with water.

The Ohio State University provides the following standards for intake for your cattle:

Cows, Dry & Bred

6-15 Gal/day

Cows, Nursing

11-18 Gal/day


7-19 Gal/day

Growing Cattle

4-15 Gal/day

Dairy Cattle

15-30 Gal/day


With this amount of water needed per head it is best to have a pump or float on your tanks to maintain an adequate supply throughout the day.  This will allow you to spend less time worrying about watering your cattle, and give you more time to focus on other aspects of the farm.

Winter, however, will cause a bit more of a problem.  During the winter you’ll want to ensure that you have both a pump and a tank heater on your water supply.  This will allow the tank heater to keep the water supply from freezing, as well as having the added benefit of keeping your goldfish alive if you opt to use this method of tank cleaning. It is important to keep in mind that during the winter the above levels of water per head may not be adequate.  Thus keeping that float of pump going will be very important to ensuring a healthy herd.

No matter how many head of cattle you have, or what you are raising them for.  Keeping them well hydrated will ensure a healthy herd that produces for you throughout their lives.  Not only keeping your cost of care down but also increasing your income from those head that you do intend to use for profit.  Water is life, and making sure that you have a clean and easily accessible supply for your cattle will make your life and their care easier year round.

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