Editor's Note: The following article was written by Maurice L. Eastridge, professor and extension dairy specialist, The Ohio State University.

We often think about focusing on water supply for livestock during the summer when water intake is the highest and heat stress occurs. However, limited water availability is often an issue during the winter months. 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. The body of dairy cattle contains 40 to 80 percent water, with the young calf having the highest body water concentration. Some general check-points for winter water availability are:

  • Offer water to pre-weaned calves – develop and communicate the protocol to all employees feeding the calves. Too often, calves, especially those in hutches, are fed milk without being offered water during the winter months.
  • Defrosting units: 1)  Make sure they are operational so water supply is not limited, 2) They are a source of stray voltage so be watchful for signs of animals hesitant to drink or lapping the water, and 3) Make sure the electrical supply to the units are in good repair and out of reach of the animals to avoid electrocution.
  • Monitor surface water sources carefully for continuous flow or unfrozen section for drinking.
  • Repair all water leaks to avoid ice build up 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 caused by the drooling of the cows.

Water deprivation severely limits animal performance and jeopardizes animal health. Ice formation around waterers and in animal walkways greatly increases the risk for injury. It’s time for that so called “check-up” on water sources - “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."