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.

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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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