Water For Calves

Water is THE most important nutrient for calves. It is required for all of life’s processes including digestion, metabolism of nutrients, elimination of waste material and excess heat, and mineral ion balance. To enhance water intake, clean fresh water is a must daily.

Successful weaning is our goal, and development of the rumen for digestion of solid feed enables this. Water is essential for rumen development and fermentation of grain. Unlike milk, water consumed is directed by the oesophageal groove into the rumen, not the abomasum as with milk. Water is necessary for growth of digestive bacteria for fermenting grain. Research has shown greater weight gain in calves offered free choice water as opposed to water in milk or replacer. Calves are 70 – 75% water. Any compromised water access will have severe effects on growth, rumen development and possible death. Dehydration signs include: dry mouth and nose, tacky gums, depression, irregular pulse and cold legs and ears.

A pre-weaned calf require 3 litres of water to consume 1 kg of calf grain. To wean a calf, we need her drinking 8 – 10 litres of water to consume 2 – 2.5 kgs of calf grain. When she is consuming this amount of grain you can be confident the rumen is well enough developed for digesting solid feed and the calf can be weaned. Post-weaning, this ratio increased to 4 lts/kg of solid feed and remains so into adulthood. As atmospheric temperature rises to 21C, water consumption will increase by 33%, and past 32C it will double.

Factors affecting water quality, and hence intake, nutrient value of powdered milk and electrolyte, include, organic matter (odor & taste), physiochemical properties (pH, total dissolved solids) soluble salt & hardness, excess of minerals and bacteria. High total solids can force water out of body cells dehydrating the calf (osmolarity). Calves cannot tolerate excess sodium levels, or elevated mineral content. Bacteria such as E. Coli and salmonella may be present in poor quality water.

Warm water (body temp) is very beneficial. Cold water can drop the temperature of the rumen for up to one hour. Warm water saves energy to restore rumen temperature. Research demonstrating improved health performance in calves with water cleaned by reverse osmosis verifies the necessity for high quality water to achieve optimum growth and development.

Calfmax and TreatScour are available from our webshop.



John Lyne

Leave a Reply