We tend to only think about water intake in the summer when temperatures are increasing and increased intake is needed to help with cooling. In the winter, water intake can also increase due to increased intake to meet energy needs. Additionally, freezing water lines, water bowls, or water troughs can go unnoticed for hours at a time thereby limiting the cows’ ability to get enough water.
Without water cows will not eat. When a cow is drinking she can draw at a rate of 3 to 5 gallons per minute. If pipes, hoses, or pumps are frozen or partially frozen, the flow rate to the water source can be greatly decreased. A simple way to measure flow rate is to take a 5 gallon bucket to the water source and time how long it takes for the bucket to fill. To determine the flow rate in gallons per minute, divide 5 gallons by the number of seconds it took to fill the bucket and then multiply by 60 seconds.
Example: If you measure 50 seconds to fill the 5 gallon bucket your calculation is: 5 ÷ 50 = 0.1, then 0.1 x 60 = 6 gallons per minute.
Another important factor in water consumption is water temperature. The ideal temperature range for cows when drinking water is 40°F to 65°F. If you are using heaters on pipes or in water sources to keep them open in cold weather, check water temperature on a regular basis to make sure they are working properly. Checking the temperature daily when it is very cold can help you catch when a heater is failing before the water is frozen. Regular monitoring of water temperatures when it is below freezing will allow you to determine if you are using your water heating system most efficiently.
Cows require 4.5 to 5 pounds of water (from drinking water and water in feed) per pound of milk produced, so decreased water availability will have a direct impact on milk production.