A 1-page fact sheet (Three Common Drinking Water Problems on Dairy Farms) providing clues on these issues along with guidelines for taking water samples for analysis and potential certified laboratories that analyze water samples is available by e-mailing your request to firstname.lastname@example.org or download it from the MSU Extension Dairy Team Web site.
Thumb H20 Project
To examine these important water issues even further, I conducted a project called the Thumb H2O Project. This project involved 37 dairy farms in Huron, Sanilac, St. Clair, and Tuscola Counties.
Milking cow drinking water was sampled on each farm and then analyzed using the services of a certified commercial laboratory** (7). The water analysis test used is called the “Livestock Suitability Test” and included sodium (Na), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), pH, nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N), sulfate (SO4), conductivity, total dissolved solids (TDS), iron (Fe), chloride (Cl), and copper (Cu). In addition, data were collected on these farms from their milking parlors and milking cow housing facilities concerning number of waterers, space, location, and cleanliness.
Water quality issues were found on 27.0 percent of the farms sampled. Table 2 breaks down these potential water quality issues into five categories. High total dissolved solids were found on 13.5 percent of farms with TDS levels as high as 3,770 ppm. Sulfate + chloride problems were found on 8.1 percent of farms with sulfate + chloride levels as high as 2,016 ppm. High iron was found on 10.8 percent of farms, with levels as high as 0.81 ppm.
None of the farms’ water samples showed elevated levels of nitrate-nitrogen. The highest nitrate-nitrogen level found was only 1.8 ppm. One farm had a high pH (9.48). This was included as a potential water quality problem because EPA water quality guidelines for human consumption suggest that a pH of greater than 8.5 can result in water having a bitter taste, reduce the germicidal effectiveness of chlorine, and is corrosive to pipes. The effect of drinking water pH on animal performance and health has not been well researched.
These data clearly indicated that potential water quality issues do exist on nearly one quarter of the farms tested. Every dairy participating in the study was encouraged to perform follow-up water analyses to confirm/deny that the potential water quality issues detected are real and whether water treatment strategies should be sought to correct these problems. MSU Extension encourages all dairy farmers to implement a routine water testing program on their operation and track these analyses over time. Water quality is not something that remains constant, but rather changes as the underlying aquifer changes. Also, some farms on this study sourced cow drinking water from more than one well. Thus, be sure all sources of drinking water for your operation are included in your testing program.