Water quality can affect animal welfare and the financial bottom line long before visual symptoms start to appear.
“It never bothered them before” is an often-heard refrain when the welfare of animals is impaired by poor water quality.
“We just can’t determine the quality of water by just looking at it,” explains Leah Clark of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture, discussing the importance of monitoring water quality at this year’s Ag in Motion show near Saskatoon.
Hot, dry temperatures evaporate surface water, which in turn concentrates the minerals in the water, she explains. This means water quality tends to drop over the summer.
Clark maintains it’s important to note clear water does not mean good water. In fact, one of the clues indicating water problems is that no algae is growing in it.
Last summer (2017) was a real eye-opener for many farmers and ranchers.
“Water bodies that never caused problems in the past wreaked havoc in some cases (because of the lack of rainfall),” Clark explains.
Often farmers and ranchers will simply focus on total dissolved solids (TDS), which is one way to measure salinity, and a good starting point, but it should not be the ending point. The composition of the solids in the water is also important.
For instance, if you have sulphates in your water, this can cause trace mineral deficiencies, which in turn can cause animal health problems at much lower TDS values than what would otherwise be assumed.
When water quality is poor, it is possible to lose 1/4 lb or more per animal, per day, without any visual symptoms, says Clark, encouraging farmers and ranchers to monitor their water all summer to protect their cow herd, and their bottom line.