Research published in the spring edition of The Bovine Practitioner shows just how important it is to provide clean, fresh water to young calves. 

Researchers at UtahStateUniversity changed the drinking water offered to Holstein bull calves daily, every seven days or every 14 days from birth until weaning at 60 days of age. They measured average daily gain both before and after weaning.

When researchers changed the water daily while calves were in hutches, average daily gain improved 4.7 percent compared to changing the water every seven days and 10.7 percent compared to a 14-day interval. The calves also sustained better growth rates during the post-weaning growth phase. The table below summarizes differences in the calves’ average daily gain both before and after weaning. Calves on the daily water-changing regimen also weighed 30 pounds more at the end of the study than calves on the 14-day regimen and 15 pounds more than calves on the seven-day regimen.

In addition to improving calf growth, changing calves’ drinking water frequently also decreased the number of electrolyte or antibiotic treatments needed by calves. Calves assigned to daily or weekly water changing received about 1.25 treatments before weaning. Conversely, calves whose water was changed every two weeks required 1.75 treatments — a 40-percent increase. Calves on the 14-day regimen also were 2.48 times more likely to receive more than one treatment compared to calves on the daily or weekly water-changing regimens.

“A seemingly minor management practice, such as frequency of changing (and) rinsing drinking water buckets in calf hutches, can have an impact on calf performance and health,” conclude the authors. They recommend a water-changing interval of one week or less.

    Drinking-water changing frequency
   Daily   Weekly    Every 14 days
 Pre-weaning average daily gain (pounds)   1.55  1.48   1.4
 Post-weaning average daily gain (pounds)   3.12  3.01   2.9

                                                                                     The Bovine Practitioner, Vol. 40, No. 1, Spring 2006