The most important nutrient cattle consume is water, according to Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist.
"This can become a real issue when ponds dry up and wells are low," says Cole.
Water intake is variable depending on the forage being fed, age and weight of the cow, the outside temperature and the stage of production.
From 1995 to 1998, Cole worked with Dr. Richard Crawford at the Southwest Research Center, Mt. Vernon, Mo., on four summer trials where water intake and quality were monitored closely.
"Two of those trials involved 500 to 600 pound yearling steers and two years the work was done on spring-calving cows," says Cole.
The trials were carried out each year from April to October and compared water consumption on endophyte-free or infected fescue.
Another variable was the actual water source. Each year one half of the cattle were given well water while the other half received pond water that had cattle traffic in it.
"There is information from these trials that cattle producers can use this year when cattle may have to have water hauled to them," says Cole.
Water intake for the yearlings both years averaged 8.5 gallons per day. As the weather warmed up, and the cattle grew heavier, daily intakes rose to about 11 gallons. The peak intake was 14 gallons per day during one week.
The cows, and their calves, during the two years averaged 20 gallons of water consumption per day.
The cows grazing the endophyte infected or "hot" fescue did consume about three gallons more water per day each year, but it was statistically significant only in 1998.
The peak daily water intake for the pairs was 39 gallons during one week in 1998.
For the most part, Cole says the top water consumption of the pairs during the heat of the summer ran around 30 gallons.
"We did not see any difference between the performance and appearance of cattle whether they drank the clean well water or dirty pond water. This may be helpful if farmers worry their ponds may be impacting their cattle's gains or milk production," says Cole.