An abundant, high-quality water source is the most important nutrient, says Dave Beede, professor of dairy nutrition at Michigan State University.

Providing enough watering stations, enough space around the water and uninhibited access to water all day, every day of the year, is the most important water nutrition consideration you can have, Beede said during a session at the 2012 Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference.

Lactating cow groups need 2 inches of linear space per cow. “They should never have to walk more than 50 feet to get a drink of water,” Beede said, “and if the water stations are close to the feed you’ll see an increase in water intake.”

For fresh and close-up cows, he recommends providing 3 to 4 inches of linear space per cow.