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Winter water quality checklist

Adam Geiger for Progressive Dairy Published on 12 December 2019
Cow getting water

Here are some general guidelines for how to handle water in the colder months, particularly in the Midwest, Northeast and Pacific Northwest.

Prior to cold weather in existing facilities:



  • Check that all heated waterers are functioning properly.

  • Ensure water flow to all waterers is adequate.

  • Check insulation on insulated water pipes and replace if in poor condition.

  • Protect waterers and water pipes from the elements during cold weather using insulation, straw or other materials.

During cold weather in new or existing facilities:

  • Check waterers routinely to ensure water flow is adequate.

  • Keep pens fully stocked to increase water flow.

  • Waterers and surrounding surfaces should be cleaned of ice, snow and mud frequently.

  • During extreme cold spells, remove ice accumulations routinely. Options include sprinkling the floor around the waterer with potassium chloride daily (take caution that potassium chloride may slightly roughen the concrete over several years), or using high-pressure steam cleaners to remove accumulated ice and frozen manure.

  • In pens with multiple waterers, consider shutting off the water supply to a portion of the waterers to increase water flow through remaining waterers.

  • Drain pipes supplying water to inactive waterers.

  • If automated water systems with heating units are used, check units often.

  • Observe units closely for malfunction or stray voltage.

  • Water for calves should be at or near normal body temperature (101.5ºF).

  • Have plans in place for auxiliary water supplies in the event of an emergency water outage.

Why water matters

Ultimately, we need to know what is going on with our water, regardless of season, but it becomes even more important during this time of the year because composition changes are frequent and not uncommon. Further, adverse weather conditions can make water supply limiting.

Following air, water is the nutrient required in the highest quantity for cattle, accounting for 87% of the milk cows produce. In fact, while dairy cows spend four to five hours per day eating, they only spend 20 to 23 minutes drinking. The water they drink provides 60% to 80% of a lactating cow’s daily water intake, which is why access to fresh, clean water is so important. However, poor water quality, low intakes and levels of dissolved solids can impact cow performance, as cows need water for the most basic levels of function, let alone milk production. Water also comprises the bulk of the calf diet.

Don’t skimp on providing plenty of fresh, clean water to dairy animals, whether it’s wintertime or any other season.  end mark


PHOTO: Cow getting water. Photo by Mike Dixon.

Adam Geiger is a research nutritionist for dairy at Zinpro. Email Adam Geiger.