WaterForCows.com presented at Cornell Nutrition Conference

So the trauma of a technological meltdown at the Cornell Nutrition Conference has finally abated.  In referring to the mishaps I endured in trying to use an iPad and SlideShark, with an iPhone as a remote, Dr. Charlie Sniffen called the presentation an “abject failure”.  At least I hope he was referring to the technical challenges…..  There were 4 points I tried to make in this presentation:

  1. That water can contribute tens to hundreds of grams of mineral to a cow’s mineral intake;
  2. That mineral intake from water is no different in terms of solubility or availability than the minerals in the diet;
  3. That the minerals from water can lead to excesses, which provide opportunities to reduce diet mineral levels, or which may compromise availability of trace minerals; and
  4. That the minerals from water contribute to the overall acid/base status of cows, just as the DCAD of the diet does.

In this slide from the presentation, I used a water and diet analysis from a dairy in New Mexico.  Evaluating the situation with WaterForCows.com , it is evident that there is sufficient sulfur to compromise the availability of Cu and Se.  Perhaps the larger effect is that the negative Strong Ion Difference of the water (-20.4 mEq/L) drags the cows far from an ideal DCAD for intake and milk production; from a DCAD of 29.9 mEq/100g DM to a TICAD of 18.9 mEq/100 g DM.  NM Water

Technological challenges aside, there has been a great response to the message that water can have significant impacts on the health and productivity of dairy cows.  You can evaluate these impacts for your dairy, or those of your clients, by registering for a free subscription to WaterForCows.com.

If you want to learn more, you can download the paper or the presentation from the Cornell Nutrition Conference, or on the resource page of WaterForCows.com

If you know someone who might value this concept, please forward to them or send them a link!  Thanks.

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Free Access to WaterForCows.com

After discussions with many enthusiastic subscribers to the WaterForCows model at World Dairy Expo last week, Mark Holt, President of Vi-COR®, Inc. decided that this valuable tool should be made more widely available to the dairy industry.  As a result, access to the WaterForCows model is now free to all users, with the intention that all dairy producers, nutritionists, veterinarians and consultants will be able to easily evaluate the quality of water for their cows.

“Since 2003, Vi-COR has supported our customers with the Milk to the Max program, and more recently with the Feeder Education and Employee Development (FEED) program” says Holt.  “Water quality is just too important to dairy cows and dairy producers, so we want to get the word out by giving them a tool that can help drive improvements in this very critical input.”

To sign up for access to the WaterForCows model, simply visit the Subscribe Now! tab at WaterForCows.com, complete the registration form and then log on to use the model.  All you need is a water analysis and a diet summary to learn how your water supply may be affecting your cows’ productivity or health.

If you find this tool useful, send a link to a friend, follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, you know the drill, help us get the word out!  Thanks!

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Is Water Quality Affecting Your Milk Production?

Early in my cooperative extension career 20+ years ago, I got to work with some great veterinarians and nutritionists (and still do, I might add…..).  Together, we explored the effects that water quality was having on dairies across the Northwest NY region. On one memorable example, the dairy could turn 3 pounds of dry matter intake on or off by switching between a well with 300 ppm of sulfate and the other well with 1200 ppm of sulfate.  This is where I cut my teeth, so to speak, on water quality as it relates to dairy cattle health and productivity.

Recently, Bryan Swistock, of Penn State Extension published the results of a dairy water quality survey which was conducted last fall.  From that survey, they had 174 water samples from dairy farms which were analyzed with a basic water quality panel for bacteria, TDS, hardness and common minerals.  Using the commonly available guidelines for concern levels, the authors found that 45 dairies, or 26% of the water supplies, had one or more water quality issues.  Interestingly, the dairies with problematic waters averaged 6 pounds less of milk production than the dairies with “clean” water supplies; 56 vs 62# of milk. You can view a webinar or the presentation for more information.Is there a causal relationship?

As with most surveys of this type, the association between the two characteristics (problem water and lower production) doesn’t prove causation, so it would be very interesting to run those analysis results through the WaterForCows® model to see what specific problems could be identified.  But, this is important work that highlights the potential for water to be confounding our efforts to keep cows healthy and productive.

One problem with analyzing just water for dairy cows, is that it leaves out the biggest contributor to mineral intake – the diet.  It is only when we combine the total mineral intake from both the diet and water as WaterFor Cows does, and as Alejandro Castillo and Bill Weiss did in their recent Journal of Dairy Science article, that we get an accurate picture of the potential for antagonism, toxicity, or aversion.  Next post, I’ll review that JDS article which evaluated the mineral intake from water and the diet on mineral excretion in CA dairies.

If you found this post useful, forward it to a friend or colleague, then follow WaterForCows on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

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Mineral Availability from Water for Dairy Cows

The 2005 NRC publication “Mineral Tolerance of Animals” changed my life and brought me to the point, years later, of blogging about water (weird, huh?). Like everyone else, I had half-baked assumptions (mostly incorrect) about whether minerals in water were or were not available to the animal consuming them.  One sentence lead me to a much deeper exploration of the scientific literature on water chemistry: “Thus, knowing only the concentration of a mineral in water is an incomplete description as to the toxicity or availability of the mineral” (pg 470).  The next paragraph goes on to explain that “an element can exist in water as a simple hydrated ion, as a molecule, as a complex with another ion or molecule, and as many other additional complexes (Stumm and Morgan, 1996)”.

In consideration of this concept, there are two laws that come into play: 1) that the resulting solution will be electrically neutral and 2) that the final solution will have the lowest possible energy state.  To accomplish that, the ions in a solution will dissociate and re-associate in different ionic specie (combinations).  If you add another ion to the solution, Na for instance, there would be a reshuffling of the ion specie until the solution was again electroneutral and in the lowest energy state.

For example, let’s look at some of the different ion specie of Cl in a solution.  If you took a regular water sample that had 100 ppm of Cl (along with other typical minerals), that Cl would exist in several different combinations, or ion specie.  Some of the possible combinations include:  Cl-, FeCl+, FeCl++, ZnCl3-, MnCl+, etc.  Each of these different ion specie will have a different solubility, hydration sphere and hence, availability to the animal.

There is a hydrogeochemical model,  PHREEQC, published by the US Geologic Survey, that will calculate the concentrations of the various ion specie and their relative solubility in a given solution which satisfy the two laws mentioned above.  For a dairy cow, the bioavailability of each of those ion specie will largely depend on its solubility (the Ksp, or solubility constant).  So, unless we can calculate what all the various ion specie are, and determine their solubility, we can’t really make a good guess about their bioavailability.

And, those calculations are only in a solution with water and minerals.  In cattle, this is further complicated by the presence of strong organic ions, like BHB or lactate, and many weak ions like amino acids, etc.  These will influence the formation, concentration and solubility of the various ion specie.

So, all we can really say is that the minerals in water, or from the diet, once in the aqueous environment of the rumen, are electrochemically equivalent and so, will have the same bioavailability, because they will all be governed by the same electrochemical laws and scheme of ionic speciation.

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Assessing Water Quality for Dairy Cows

A question that’s frequently asked is “How often should we test our water?”  The answer depends somewhat on the source of the water for your dairy cows.  The quick answer is to sample and analyze your water supply four times in a year.  Pick the times of the year that are most likely to influence the water table:  spring snow melt or rainy season, driest part of the year, and then points in between.  This should give you a good baseline of the seasonal variation.

If your water comes from a shallow source, an unconsolidated (gravelly) aquifer, a very porous limestone, etc. it will be much more variable throughout the year and influenced by large weather events.  A couple of years of 4x testing should give you a good sense of how much it varies, and which minerals are most influenced.  If you want to know more about the underlying geology for your water supply, visit the US Geologic Survey Groundwater Information System.  There, you can find maps, data and more about groundwater levels, quality, flow, etc.

If your water comes from a deep well, or is based in metamorphic or igneous bedrock, it will generally be more stable, but also more highly mineralized since that water has spent more time underground.  Complete one year of 4x testing and if the results are pretty consistent, you can get away with sampling every couple of years.

Analyzing water quality is a minor investment in comparison to the benefits of understanding how much mineral your dairy cows are consuming from that source. When you get the analysis results back, run them through the evaluator at www.waterforcows.com so that you know if there are any complications from your water supply.

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Dairy cows need water. Is water a risk for your dairy?

A recent article originating from the World Economic Forum in Davos, highlighted global business leaders’ concern with risks to their businesses associated with water. Sometimes its too much water, but more often too little, or of inadequate quality. That article spurred me to think that dairy business owners should be equally concerned about their access to clean water for cows and crops. The ongoing drought across large swaths of dairy production around the world is just one factor.   As populations grow, people become more affluent, etc. the demands on water supplies increase dramatically. Around the world, agriculture in general, and especially dairy production, is going to face increased socioeconomic competition for water. Drilling deeper wells is only going to work so long. All around the world, water withdrawals are outpacing the rate of recharge.  The World Resources Institute, working with funding from the Coca-Cola Company, developed the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas which allows users to explore the water risks to their business arising from the increased competition for water.  Looking at the Agriculture scenario, which includes water Quantity risk, water Quality risk and Regulatory risk, provides a picture like this:

Global Water Stress - Agriculture

As is typical, orange and red indicate higher levels of risk, or stress on the water supply.  Make a rough stab at your dairy’s location.  What does the water risk scenario look like for you?  What can you do to help ensure your dairy has abundant, clean water for the cows and the crops?  Like the global business leaders at the World Economic Forum, this question should never be far from your mind.

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Removing Fe to Improve Water Quality for Dairy Cows

Last week I wrote about the palatability of drinking water when iron (Fe) is above 4 ppm.  Now let’s look at some ways to get Fe out of your water if you have a level that will interfere with water intake.

Below about 3 ppm, Fe can be removed, just like Ca and Mg, with a regular water softener, if the softener is set up for it.  This can be helpful in removing the Fe which Fe-reducing bacteria thrive on.  These bacteria, which form slimy, filamentous films in water pipes and troughs may also affect water intake.  Either get the Fe out of the water (starve the bacteria), or be diligent in keeping water troughs clean (never a bad idea……).

Above 3 ppm, other methods have to be applied to improve water quality for dairy cows.  Most will involve oxidizing the Fe and removal of the resulting complexes.  Injection of a Chlorine (Cl) source will bind with the Fe and form complexes which will settle out.  Either sodium hypochlorite or chlorine dioxide will work, but in either case a reaction tank is necessary after the Cl injection to allow time for the formation of the complexes and precipitation.  The drinking water must then be drawn from above the layer of reddish water which will form at the bottom of the tank.  Alternatively, the water can be run through a mechanical or activated carbon filter for removal of the Fe complexes.

Careful monitoring of the residual Cl levels is required! Too much, and you risk disinfecting the rumen.  A swimming pool test kit will allow testing to keep residual Cl levels (at the tap) below about 0.3 ppm.  This will also provide effective disinfection of the water troughs for other environmental or ion (sulfur or manganese) dependent  bacteria.

Greensand filtration is another means of oxidizing Fe found in drinking water for dairy cows.  This method requires routine backwashing and recharging to retain the oxidizing activity and will require additional pretreatment if Mn is present.  Ozone injection is another, but more expensive, means of oxidizing Fe.  Like chlorination, both of these methods will require filtration to remove the resulting Fe complexes.

Water chemistry is very complex and the design of an effective treatment system requires a complete understanding of all the constituents, pH and potential contaminants.  One source of excellent information is the Penn State Water Resources website.  When it comes time to consider the options for your particular water source, work with professionals who have NSF and WQA certifications.

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Effects of Fe on water quality for dairy cattle

For decades, the guidelines for Fe in drinking water for dairy cattle suggested that 0.3 ppm was a level at which palatability would become an issue. This level was based on human palatability guidelines. In the February 2013 Journal of Dairy Science, David Beede finally provided some much needed data in this area. View abstract here.

In those studies, Dr. Beede examined both the level and form of Fe in water and the effects on water intake. What they found is that somewhere between and 4 and 8 ppm, cows will back off of water intake, presumably because of taste.

The form in which Fe was added to the water made no difference. Both ferrous (Fe+2) and ferric (Fe+3) sulfate or chloride were tested at 0 or 8 ppm of Fe, and water intakes did not differ between forms. Similarly, ferrous sulfate, ferrous chloride and ferrous lactate were tested at 8 ppm of Fe. Again, there was no effect of the form of Fe in the water on intake.

One aspect which was not addressed in these experiments was the role of Fe oxidizing bacteria which will proliferate in water pipes and troughs when there is sufficient Fe in the water to support their growth. It is not known whether these bacteria are toxic in any way, but they may play a role in reducing palatability and hence, water intake.

Subsequent posts will address some options for removing Fe from water if it seems to be a problem.

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