Your herd’s water supply often receives the most attention during the summer when water intake is highest and heat stress occurs. However, limited water availability is often an issue during the winter months, says Maurice Eastridge, professor and extension dairy specialist at The Ohio State University.

“An inadequate supply of water during the winter can reduce calf and heifer growth and milk yield of cows, and, of course, health issues related to dehydration can quickly occur,” Eastridge says.

A dairy animal’s body contains 40 to 80 percent water, with the young calf having the highest body water concentration. Now is a good time to give your water sources a checkup. Here are some general water-availability guidelines for winter:

• Offer water to pre-weaned calves. Develop and communicate the protocol to all employees who feed the calves.

• Make sure defrosting units on waterers are operational so the water supply is not limited. Defrosting units are a source of stray voltage, so watch for signs of animals hesitant to drink or lap the water. Also, make sure the electrical supply to the units is in good repair and out of the animals’ reach to avoid electrocution.

• Monitor surface water sources carefully for continuous flow or unfrozen section for drinking.

• Repair all water leaks to avoid ice buildup around the waterers and remove all areas where water may pool on concrete to avoid animals slipping on ice. Throwing some rock salt on the area around the waterers can help minimize ice formation, even that caused by cows drooling.