About Water for Cows®

It all started 20+ years ago, literally on my first day as a Dairy Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. I pulled into Dan Wolf’s Maple Lawn Farm and Dan greeted me with, “what do you know about water for cows?” Thus began a journey to understand the impact that water quality, and in particular, the minerals in water, could have on dairy cattle.

In my early years of working with Dan and other dairy producers, troubleshooting problems, writing articles and making presentations on water, I, like everyone else working in that arena, used the same table of acceptable levels of minerals. Tracking that table back, it seems to have originated with Dr. Dick Adams from Penn State University. Dr. Adams had developed those guidelines from a combination of field experience and the very limited research out there. There was however, a real dearth of good research on the effects which individual minerals, supplied in water, might have on cows.

During my graduate research, I had come across the concept of the Strong Ion Difference (see Peter A. Stewart, 1983), in trying to explain the role that endometrial ion transport played in the regulation of intrauterine pH. That concept came back around as I began to dig into the scientific literature of water chemistry. It dawned on me that the effects which I had observed first-hand on dairies in central NY, were not so much due to the effects of individual minerals contained in the water, but rather, to the net charge that those ions conveyed into the cow, thereby influencing her pH homeostasis. The concept of DCAD in dairy nutrition was at this time becoming established. Since then, many researchers and hundreds of trials, have explored the mechanisms by which dietary strong ions influence the cow.  However, the role of the strong ions contained in drinking water has been (and still is) largely ignored.

SID v1, was a first attempt to quantify the net charge, in mEq/L, which water introduced to the cow. SID (for Strong Ion Difference) included four main components: a water intake prediction using the equation of Murphy; calculation of the Strong Ion Difference of the water in mEq/L; a graphical and narrative evaluation of the levels of minerals in the water, compared against the maximum tolerable levels as detailed in the 2005 NRC publication Mineral Tolerance of Livestock; and lastly, the combination of DCAD with SID into a Total Intake Cation Anion Difference (TICAD). The contribution of strong ions from water and feed were adjusted for intake of each and expressed on a mEq/100g DM basis.

WaterForCows is the next generation tool which takes a more detailed look at the combined intake of water and feed minerals as compared to NRC requirements. Again, using the water intake equation of Murphy, WaterForCows calculates the intake of each mineral contained in a water analysis and adds that to the intake of minerals from the diet. This is compared against the 2001 NRC mineral requirements, for breed size and stage of lactation, to provide both a total intake of each mineral in grams, and the percent of requirements. As before, the model also provides graphical and narrative descriptions of the relative safety, potential antagonisms or other effects of each mineral as outlined in Mineral Tolerance of Livestock. Lastly, WaterForCows calculates the SID, DCAD and the integrated TICAD values for water, diet and the combination, respectively.

This is all combined in a single page, easy to use web interface which will then provide a quick and easy to understand evaluation of the impact of a water supply, integrated with their diet, on dairy cattle. I hope that you enjoy using, and find value in WaterForCows. If you have questions, or suggestions for improvements/enhancements, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thanks for visiting waterforcows.com,

Charlie Elrod, Ph.D.
President, Springfield Farm Enterprises, Inc.