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Water woes can hurt cattle

Dry conditions for the past many months could mean trouble in dugouts

Many producers are continuing to feel the effects of the 2017 drought, which are lingering into the 2018 grazing season.

Numerous ponds and dugouts dried up as a result of the drought, and any water remaining in others may not be the best quality.

“Water quality in ponds and dugouts still may be compromised by concentrated levels of salts, minerals and bacteria,” Miranda Meehan, North Dakota State University Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist said.

Michelle Mostrom, a toxicologist in NDSU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, recommends producers test their livestock’s water sources for total dissolved solids (TDS), sulphates and nitrates. TDS measure salts. These levels should be less than 5,000 parts per million (ppm) for most classes of grazing livestock. Elevated levels of TDS may be harmful to livestock health.

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Sulphate levels should be less than 500 ppm for calves and less than 1,000 ppm for adult cattle. High levels of sulphate can reduce copper availability in the diet. Elevated levels of sulphates may cause loose stool, whereas very high levels of sulphate can induce central nervous system problems and polioencephelomalacia, a brain disorder in cattle.

Nitrate in itself is not toxic to animals, but at elevated levels, it causes nitrate poisoning. Water sources that receive run-off from fields and confined feeding locations that contain elevated levels of nitrogen are at risk of contamination.

“Monitoring water quality throughout the grazing season is important because the quality changes in response to climate and environmental conditions,” says Janna Kincheloe, extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s Hettinger Research Extension Center. “The importance will be magnified if the drought continues into the growing season, especially when using a shallow water source and sources with a history of water quality issues.”

Many commercial laboratories aprovide testing for livestock water quality and specialized testing. The cost of a basic water quality test is quite affordable.

If concerned about livestock disease caused by contaminated drinking water, contact your local veterinarian, or government or university extension staff.

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