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.
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.
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.
Contamination of water supplies can be common following disasters, particularly following flooding of water wells.
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)
If cattle have been drinking straight seawater (35,000 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: