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.

About Charlie Elrod

With 30+ years of experience in the dairy industry, I have a well-rounded perspective of what makes a dairy work. In that time I built and operated my own dairy, worked as a herdsman, practiced as an A.I. and E.T. technician, conducted research in nutrition and reproduction, developed educational programs for dairy industry professionals and provided contract technical support to global feed and ingredient companies. In my role with Balchem Corporation, I have the opportunity to bring that experience to bear in product development, testing, clinical and field research, and supporting our customers. My interest in water stems from a lifelong interest in geology and an innate curiosity about how something so fundamental as water can have such profound effects on cows.
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2 Responses to Effects of Fe on water quality for dairy cattle

  1. Jim Wysocki says:

    Any comments on water with a pH of 9 along with high alkalinity & buffering capacity with otherwise normal minerals (little high in manganese, but that is common in this area) as to expected effects on lactating dairy cows and production?

    Worth treating? If so, methods?

  2. Jim, I’ve had some experience with high pH waters where we measured water intakes and found them to be very low. Along with that, dry matter intake and milk production weren’t great either. In one instance, we installed a 1:128 proportioner to inject feed grade citric acid (dissolved in water) and bring the pH down to about 7.5. The measured increase in water intake was over 10 gallons. At the time, we did not have a more complete water analysis, but were just working off the pH. In that area, Wayne and Ontario counties in NY, there are a lot of high Fe, Mn and S waters. The citric acid injection was a very low cost, easy to maintain system to get the pH into a better range.