A water test is cheaper than a cow

   Water is essential to the health and productivity of livestock. Water quality and quantity will remain a concern this year.

Submitted by Elin Kittelmann, County Agent

The worry comes with Total Dissolved Solid (TDS) concentration in the water, specifically sulfate concentrations. For those waters testing extremely high, TDS and sulfate will likely take a large amount of water over time for the levels to return to an acceptable or safe level.

  Elevated levels of TDS began showing up in mid-May and will continue to be an increasing concern throughout the summer. Water with total dissolved solids at 4,000-6,000 ppm is considered poor quality and when TDS reach 10,000 ppm brain damage and death can occur in livestock. Further testing should be done when TDS levels are over 3,000 ppm. When TDS is high, it is likely the results of sulfate and sodium.

   Water with 300 ppm or less of sulfate is good; 300-2,000 ppm is fair/acceptable; 2,000 ppm or higher is poor quality. At 2,000 ppm sulfates, there will begin to be measurable negative effects, mostly due to the sulfate ions interfering with other ions (copper and molybdenum). Sulfur will bind with copper to form cupric sulfide which is insoluble, therefore decreasing copper availability and possibly causing a copper deficiency. Copper deficiency in calves will cause growth retardation, impaired feed conversation, rough hair coat, diarrhea, and leg abnormalities. Cattle will also show microscopic lesions of the skeleton and cardiovascular system. Copper plays an essential role in the structural integrity of collagen. A copper depletion will result in fragile easily broken bones, pacing gait due to stiffness of legs. As a result of insufficient copper, hair will not develop normal pigment and hair may bleach and fertility may be reduced. Copper solubility will decrease proportionally with increasing protein.

   When water sulfate levels are above 5,000 ppm, cattle will start to show signs of other problems. Sulfur can accumulate to toxic levels quickly in livestock and cause a brain disorder referred to as polioencephalomalacia (PEM), also known as polio or “star gazing”. When cattle and sheep consume high levels of sulfate in water, feed, or both, the sulfate is turned into hydrogen sulfide in the rumen. This toxic gas is then eructated or “belched” and can be inhaled, damaging the lungs and is then absorbed into the blood stream causing death of brain tissues. Symptoms include blindness, lethargy, staggers and disorientation, head pressing, loss of appetite, decreased performance, legs may be rigidly extended, convulsions, and death. Sulfur in water is more readily available than sulfur in feed.

   Again, the negative effects are first likely to be due to sulfate interring with other ions and predispose cattle to other problems, then when levels are high enough cattle may show signs of polio. There will also be a decrease in water intake when water quality is poor due to sulfates and/or pH levels. If there is a reduction in water intake, dry matter intake will decrease and cattle will be less productive. Cattle will also have more of a challenge coping with heat when water intake is depressed. A possible temporary solution to high sulfate concentration in water is to increase the trace mineral concentration of the minerals that are getting bound up by the sulfate.

   Livestock producers are encouraged to get their livestock water tested throughout the summer. The Fallon/Carter County Extension Office can test water for TDS free of charge. This will help give us an indicator of water quality and determine if further analysis should be conducted.

   To test water, we will need a quart of water collected in a clean jar or water bottles. Bring the sample to the Extension Office shortly after sampling. Please give us a call at the Extension Office 406-778-7110 or contact Elin 406-852-3693 if you have questions.