Water Requirements and Safety for Cattle Following a Disaster

Water Requirements and Safety for Cattle following a disaster.

Although cattle can survive for days without food, a supply of clean, fresh water is essential to keep animals alive following a disaster. Generally, cattle can survive for a few days without water since they store some water in their rumen. But this water will run out quickly and needs to be replaced to keep animals alive and to prevent digestive problems.

Water Requirements

It’s always best to provide free-choice water to cattle, but following a disaster, this may not be possible. Water requirements increase by at least 50 percent in lactating cattle and in hot weather.

Minimum Water Requirements

  • Adult, nonlactating beef and dairy cattle: 10-15 gal/head/day
  • Lactating cows and bulls: 20-25 gal/head/day
  • Young, growing cattle (less than 500 lb): 5-10 gal/head/day

Getting fresh water to stranded cattle can be challenging. For small groups of cattle, lightweight plastic swimming pools make easily portable emergency water troughs and large plastic garbage cans can be used to get water to cattle. For larger groups, large troughs are needed and water may need to be dropped from bladders by helicopter. Troughs should be secured with T posts and wire so that the helicopter rotor wash doesn’t blow them away.

See pdf attachment for how to calculate trough capacity and for helpful conversion factors.

Water Safety

Contamination of water supplies can be common following disasters, particularly following flooding of water wells.

To Disinfect

  • Contamination with bacteria
    • For stored water
      • Add 2 gallons of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach (5.25%) per 100 gallons of water
    • For wells
      • Mix 1 gallon of household bleach and 3 gallons clean water
      • Add to well
      • Open all faucets and let water run until chlorine is smelled
      • Let the system sit for 24 hours
  • Contamination with toxins
    • Have tested before providing to cattle or other animals/people

For Salt Contamination

Flooding of coastal areas due to a hurricane storm surge can contaminate water supplies with salt. Dehydration, digestive upsets and death may occur if cattle have been drinking water with high salinity, with calves being most susceptible. Lactation, hot weather and exertion increase water intake, and make adult animals more susceptible to salt toxicity if salt contaminated water is the only thing available. Signs of salt toxicity can also be seen when cattle are allowed sudden free access to water following an extended period of water deprivation.

Total Soluble Salts Content of Water (ppm = parts per million)

  • Less than 3,000 ppm = safe for cattle.
  • 3,000-5,000 ppm = Satisfactory, but cattle may be reluctant to drink, and it may cause diarrhea.
  • 5,000-10,000 ppm = Avoid giving to pregnant or lactating cattle, old and young cattle.
  • Greater than 10,000 ppm = Unsafe.

If cattle have been drinking straight seawater (35,000 ppm):

  • Supply water with the salt content cut in half each day over three days
    • Approximately 15,000 ppm, then 7,000 ppm then 3000 ppm
  • Two methods
    • Mix seawater with fresh water
    • Add salt or electrolyte packets to fresh water
      • 1/4 cup of salt per gallon of water equals approximately 18,500 ppm

If cattle have been drinking brackish water with lower salt content (15,000-20,000 ppm), or have been without water for an extended period of time:

  • Try to provide grass hay first
  • Supply limited amounts of fresh water over 2-3 days
  • Ideally, water intake should be limited to 0.5 percent of body weight at hourly intervals until hydration is normal
    • 1/2 gallon per 1000 lb cow
  • Try to ensure that no cows are overdrinking or limiting others access to fresh water
    • “Boss” cows that over drink are a problem but hard to control

5/22/2020 4:25:14 PM
Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture