Summertime Water Management for Small Ruminants

— Written By Kelly McCaskill
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Summer is here and along with it hot, humid days and nights. If you have not already, you might want to take a moment to review your current water situation for your herd of sheep or goats. Access to cool, clean drinking water is important for every species of livestock year round but it’s especially important when temperatures start to rise. Small ruminants drink ½ to 3 gallons of water a day depending on how much fresh forage they are ingesting and if they are lactating or not. Water availability and quality can greatly affect how well an animal performs during the summer months.

Distance to water is one consideration. Livestock should generally not have to walk more than 500 feet to get to a water source. If water is further away than this animals will not only drink less but may even start to lose body condition because of the extra energy exerted getting to their water source.

The quality of the water is another thing to consider. There are two main types of water sources for livestock; surface water, such as a pond and pumped water i.e. a well or city water. Surface water can provide a low cost, high-quality water source to livestock if managed correctly but because of water pollution concerns are no longer the preferred method of watering animals. A water trough or automatic waterer filled by a well or city water is usually the best option for livestock systems.

No matter what your water source, you should test the suitability of your water for animal consumption. A solution analysis can be performed by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services agronomic division at the cost of $5 per sample – Solution Analysis   This analysis includes pH, mineral element concentrations, and soluble salts. The pH of water is determined by its geographical location as well as surrounding environmental factors. Ideally, we want our drinking water to be neutral, or as close to 7 as possible but a normal range for groundwater is 6 to 8.5. Mineral element concentrations are important to know because if levels are too high there can be toxicity issues. The minerals commonly tested for are N (measured as NH4 -N, NO3 -N and/or urea), P, K, Ca, Mg, S, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu, B, Na and Cl. Soluble salts are generally low in surface water but can cause increased thirst and decreased palatability if levels are high.

During warm months water troughs can quickly become hot when in direct sunlight. Algae growth can also be an issue in troughs, especially when made of white translucent plastic. You can discourage algae growth in several ways:

Goldfish Add 4-6 goldfish per 100 gallons of tank capacity. Water temperature should be at least 60°F for best fish survival, so spring-fed waterers or tanks with a constant water turnover may have inconsistent algae control. Remember you’re trading the presence of algae for the presence of fish feces. When small, take the goldfish inside the house before fall frost and put them back out again in summer. They survive outdoors better as they get larger.

Chlorine Bleach Add 2-3 ounces of 5.25% sodium hypochlorite (unscented laundry bleach) per 100 gallons of tank capacity every week. The chlorine will dissipate more rapidly in hot weather or if organic material is present in the tank. Do not use pipeline sanitizer or swimming pool chlorine. To determine gallonage of a square or rectangular tank, multiply in feet: (length x width x depth x 7.5). To estimate gallonage of a round tank, multiply in feet: (diameter x diameter x depth x 6).

Copper Sulfate Add copper sulfate (Bluestone or Blue Vitrol) at the rate of 1/8 teaspoon per 100 gallons of water to kill existing algae. It should then be mechanically removed. Cover or shade the tanks to help slow algae growth.

Zinc Sulfate  Dissolve 1 cup of zinc sulfate in 1 gallon of warm water and put 1/2 cup of this solution per 100 gallons of water in tanks as often as necessary (it will depend on number of animals drinking, amount of organic material in trough, and weather). If bird manure on the roof is not a factor, direct runoff from galvanized roofs into waterers will do the trick as well.

If you are unsuccessful in keeping algae away you will want to clean your troughs regularly with a brush and a dash of bleach. Make sure to rinse the removed algae from the tank before refilling it.

A change of seasons is always a good time to reevaluate your management practices. If you have any questions or concerns about your small ruminant herd contact your local Extension agents or veterinarian.