The Importance of Water for Animals
With the continued drought-like conditions around the United States, how are the animals being affected? What is the true importance of water for animals, both in the wild and those that have been domesticated?
Water is essential for many, many reasons. It has been said that a person or animal can potentially live for weeks without food, but only days without water. That should stress the importance of water. I will try to talk about the importance of water for plants in another post, but this post will focus upon the importance of water for animals.
I will admit that I noted this first hand one Sunday afternoon by mistake. We left on a Friday to go camping. On that Friday, I was repairing the upper floor of the barn, patching some holes and weak spots in the floor. I was sweeping the area and noted an updraft from one of the “trap doors” that are on our floor. These “trapdoors” serve the purpose of pitching hay or straw down to the lower level. I proceeded to go around to the South side of the lower portion of the barn and closed the sliding doors. This eliminated the up draft. It actually created a downdraft, pulling the dust and chaff down the hole rather than blowing it up and into my face.
So, we left for the campground, returning for a brief period of time the next day on our way to a birthday party. On both occasions, I meant to go open up the barn so that the cows could get to the waterers, yet I forgot in the rush to get to our next destination. When we returned home on Sunday afternoon, the cows were in the field bellowing. Each cow appeared to be “sunken in” and emaciated. They even appeared to stagger as they made their way to the barn. I opened the barn doors to a virtual stampede of cattle beating a path to the waterer. The two cows that are more dominant, pushed their way to the openings in the head catches to drink from the water source. Keep in mind that at this point, the cattle were still rather skittish when it comes to contact with people. The two cows gulped and gulped until the waterer was empty and unable to refill fast enough for them to get satisfied. The third cow, being less dominant in the herd, was even trying to puch her way to the water source. Witnessing this, I proceeded to grab a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with water from the garden hose. I hauled three full buckets to the barn for the third cow to drink. She drank readily, ignoring the fact that I was right at her head holding the bucket. The three cows likely drank 20 gallons each before heading back out of the barn. I watched as their sides literally expanded to the point of protuding out like a finished steer.
So what I learned, was a reinforcement of what we all inherently know: Water is a vital part of life. It has been said that a human can go for 2 or 3 weeks with no food, yet can only go 3-4 days without water. According to Oklahoma State University, water constitutes 60 to 70 percent of the body of livestock. Water is necessary for maintaining body fluids. Water is contained both within the cells of the body (intracellular) and outside of the body’s cells (extracellular fluid). The body uses water for many functions, including: thermoregulation, digestion, ion balance, waste elimination (including toxins), nutrient digestion and nutrient transport among many other functions.
Water intake comes in the form of drinking and eating. Water is lost via several body processes. These include respirations, urine, feces, sweating, saliva and evaporation. The rate that water is lost is determined by ambient air temperature, activity, and body homeostasis.
In general, an animal needs to drink roughly 6-8% (double check that number at some point) of its body weight in water. For instance, a 1200 pound cow will need to drink about 96 pounds of water. This is equivalent to 12 gallons of water. The lack of an adequate amount of water will result in decreases in production and ultimately in declining health.
It is also vital to provide your animals with fresh water. Many heated water sources that feed barns and paddocks can get clogged with hay. This hay eventually breaks down and biodegrades in the waterer. It ends up creating a foul, black type of mold or scum that is not beneficial for animals. and may be toxic and detrimental. Of course, natural water sources can include chemical run off, which may be problematic. These chemicals include fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
In closing, water is essential for many of the body’s processes. Without access to unlimited fresh water, animals can decline in overall health. They also will decline in production as a result. Though it may seem a burden at times, carrying that fresh water to the various animals is one of the most important chores that a farmer can perform. It is also important to ensure that all waterers are operating properly, reducing the chances of water freezing over. Hopefully, this begins to shed a bit of light into the importance of water for animals.