Water Tests Important for Livestock

Robert Thomas

If you have cattle and other animals heading out to pasture this Spring, a test of the water source is something farmers, producers and ranchers should be looking at. And the time to do it is now. 

That's the word from Saskatchewan Agriculture and Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA).

With last year's dry weather and little, if any, Spring runoff, the SSGA has heard reports from producers whose water supplies, like dugouts, have reported high Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) or sulphites.

"When you have the dry weather we had last year, water evaporated causing high sulphide levels. This Spring, when the water came, it diluted it slightly but with little or no runoff dugouts and other supplies were not flushed out," Chad MacPherson General Manager with the SSGA.

MacPherson said the SSGA has already received reports about high TDS levels in water supplies and as a result they are warming ranchers and producers to get their water sources tested.

"You can't manage what you can't measure," he said, encouraging water testing by ranchers and producers, especially in southern areas of the province. 

"Producers must be wary of their water sources because of the weather."

High TDS or sulphides can have a negative effect on animal health, reproduction and can even be lethal he cautioned.

Finding clean and pure drinking water will be a challenge for some this year and may lead to producers and ranchers moving their animals to pastures with clean water or they will be hauling water in.

Hauling water is expensive, MacPherson said.

Corey Elford is a Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and he says water testing is an essential.

"When it comes to animals and cattle, there are lots of things in water which could cause potential harm," Elford said.

He echoes the SSGA for producers and ranchers to get their water sources tested before turning animals out to pasture.

"We encourage people to get a test done," he said.

Saskatchewan Agriculture recommends having water tested at least two weeks before turning livestock out to pasture.

A basic test can be conducted in Moose Jaw, with water from a clean container with at least a litre of water required for the test.

Elford said Saskatchewan Agriculture has guidelines of different contaminants which may show up in a detailed water test.

Even if the water is not toxic and safe to drink for animals, falling outside the recommended parameters can lead to stress on the animals, costing producers money.

"Conductivity meters will show dangerous water that is really high and off the charts but it's the moderate levels we are also worried about," Elford said.

Subclinical effects of water with moderate levels of contamination may effect reproduction and things like higher sulphate levels can tie up trace mineral absorption in cattle for example which is necessary for health and growth. 

Higher sulphate water can effect things such as hoof health by making it more difficult for cattle to absorb minerals, like zinc, which are important to hoof health, leading to higher incidents of hoof rot. 

Other minerals necessary for bone and muscle development may not be absorbed, retarding growth and producers' bottom lines.

Elford said that so far about 60 producers have brought water in for testing this year, which is higher than normal.

"There is a lot of awareness to the issue of water quality after last summer," he said.

Producers are encouraged to call toll free 1-866-457-2377 to discuss water quality and testing with Saskatchewan Agriculture. 

For producers in the southwest or headed to Swift Current, there are free basic water tests of TDS available at the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency offices in that city.

"Producers need to wash out a bottle or a jar and take a sample to our Swift Current office. We will give you a rough estimate of TDS levels," Patrick Boyle with the Water Security Agency stated.

For more precise measurements, he said Saskatchewan Agriculture dealt with that.

Remember to find out about water quality for livestock the number to call is 1-866-457-2377. All producers, ranchers and farmers are encouraged to call in.