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Why Livestock and Poultry Operations Need to Test for Water Quality

6 minute read

Water accounts for as much as 80 percent of a piglet’s body weight at birth and closer to 50 percent of a pig’s body weight by maturity and at finishing. Water is the second most important nutrient in the body next to oxygen. It plays an important role in the regulation of an animal’s body temperature, growth, reproduction, lactation, digestion, as well as lubrication of joints. Water requirements are often expressed based on water to feed ratios of 2:1 to 3:1 and this ratio decreases with an animal’s age. Lactation is one of the highest water requirements for livestock.  

Water scarcity makes water a precious commodity in some regions of the world. Water management to control needs for livestock and humans demands good use of conservation. Additionally, water quality can be impacted by microbiological, chemical and physical factors. High levels of microbial counts can be a signal for shallow wells and water sources due to run off from high density livestock waste, and human waste contamination. Drinking water for animals should be maintained below 100 total bacteria per milliliter and fewer than 50 coliforms per milliliter. Low levels of bacteria can be kept safe by the managed use of disinfectants (for example shocking shallow wells with bleach) in the water. Chemical factors found in water test samples will often be detected with these common tests; dissolved solids (TDS), pH, iron, hardness and nitrates and nitrites. Physical measurements such as color, odor, flavor and clarity can also be evaluated from water. Water should be clear and odorless. Water that smells or is cloudy or frothy needs to have further testing and screening done. Testing your water at a reputable testing lab and having the results analyzed with the Zinpro H2O Water Analysis Program can help ensure proper water intake and can help your animals maintain optimal production.  

Water Testing Can Improve Livestock Health and Production

Water quality can create production challenges, included reduced growth, milk production, feed intake and reproductive performance. Water quality generally refers to minerals found in ground and surface waters such as sulfates, chlorides, bicarbonates, and nitrates which form salts with calcium, magnesium or sodium. Concentrations of these minerals added together makes up what we call total dissolved solids (TDS) in the water. The maximum TDS recommended for livestock water is 3,000 ppm (NRC, 2012). Above this level causes pigs to have scouring, until they get used to the water, and has been shown to have a negative impact on pregnant and lactating animals.  In regions located near volcanic areas, more toxic metals are exposed to water and it may be reasonable to have lower acceptable levels of TDS. As levels of TDS elevate, we tend to find more issues with long claw and dew claw growth, but this has not been proven scientifically and may be just an artifact to other management factors that may also impact claw growth. 

Cleaning water lines from scale and bacterial populations may help animal performance. Keeping coliform colonies below 50 per milliliter has shown improvement in gilts that show estrus when exposed to boars. This phenomenon was also demonstrated when water source was switched from shallow well water to rural water. This gave a significant boost in the percentage of gilts showing heat compared gilts watered with well water that tested over 200 coliforms per millimeter.

Often, sulfates have a poor reputation for causing the issue of scours when most of the experimental testing has shown that sulfates under 2,650 ppm did not cause any real issues in swine. Pigs adapt to the higher sulfate levels in just a few weeks. Iron mainly causes issues with increase bacterial populations and precipitation of iron compounds that can plug nipples and pipelines. Iron in the water will reduce intake of livestock if greater than 10 ppm causing poor taste. Ten ppm of nitrites is of concern in water due to binding to hemoglobin in the blood and impairing the oxygen carrying capacity. The acceptable range of pH in the water is 6.5 to 8.5 (NRC, 2012). Water pH can impact the dispersion of medications used via water application. Higher pH allows for greater pathogen proliferation and survivability.  

What Are Water Tests Looking For?

Most of the initial tests are not very complex and will look at turbidity, color, odor, TDS levels, pH and hardness. Tests will also check most of the major minerals that we’re concerned with in the diet. When there is too much of a mineral, such as calcium, in the water, it can cause problems with the absorption of other minerals, such as zinc. This is called an antagonism.  If problems are identified, more extensive testing may be recommended to look for toxic minerals such as cadmium, lead and mercury. Tests can also identify organic and chemical contaminants in the water, such as manure and chemical fertilizers.

How to Collect a Sample for a Water Test

It’s recommended that livestock and poultry producers test their water supply twice per year – once in the spring so they know what upgrades need to be made, and then again in the fall so they can compare the results and identify further upgrade needs.

It’s important to select a reputable lab for testing. A few that Zinpro recommends for basic testing include Dairyland Laboratories, Inc., Rock River Laboratory, Inc. and Dairy One. If further testing is needed for things like arsenic, fluoride, lead, pesticides, organic compounds, etc., Clean Water Testing, LLC is an option.

Reputable water testing labs will send you clear instructions for collecting a water sample when they send you the collection containers. However, it’s important to make sure you’re taking the water samples from where the animals are drinking. If you have bad water lines, or high bacterial problems, you could have misleading results if you are taking your sample from the well instead of from the end of the line in the barn.

It’s also important to make sure your sample doesn’t become contaminated by something that is not already in the water. If you have a bacterial problem, you need to make sure you’re getting a sample that is not being contaminated by environmental contamination within the barn or around the faucets.

Analyze Your Results with the Zinpro H2O Water Analysis Program

The Zinpro H2O Water Analysis Program is a step-by-step tool that identifies specific water and dietary minerals needed for livestock and poultry. The program analyzes the results of your water test and compares them to established water quality standards to help nutritionists, producers and veterinarians identify areas of concern and review signs of potential water-related issues.

The program is cloud-based and can be accessed from all major devices. Based on the results of your water test we provide you with a comprehensive analysis, with the ability to select from over 40 water components and 18 dietary minerals. We also provide targeted recommendations that can be saved as PDFs.

Having your water tested and the results analyzed by the Zinpro H2O Water Analysis Program can help reduce disease and infection and improve production performance on your livestock and poultry operation.

To learn more about the Zinpro H2O Water Analysis Program, contact a Zinpro representative today.