How Long Can A Cow Go Without Water?

A cow can survive without water for up to 4 days, but after just 1 day without drinking, it will begin to get severely dehydrated, restless and nauseous. Cows typically drink 10+ gallons per day and need to have constant access to water in order for them to survive.

This article looks at the importance of having clean drinking water for your cattle and just how long they can survive without it.

How Long Can Cattle Survive Without Water?

While cows can potentially survive for weeks without food, in most cases a cow won’t survive beyond 4 days without a water supply.

As a rule of thumb, a cow should drink about 1 gallon of water for every 100 pounds of body weight eahc day. Large dairy cows and beef cattle will typically need significantly more water than baby calves. Lactating cows are known to have some of the greatest water needs in order to produce milk.

The following table will show a cow’s daily water intake in gallons based upon their size and the temperature of their living environment:

Calf 400 lbs4 gallons5 gallons9.5 gallons
Calf 800 lbs6 gallons8 gallons15 gallons
Heifer 900 lbs6.5 gallons8.5 gallons14 gallons
Lactating Cow 900 lbs11 gallons14.5 gallons16.5 gallons
Bull 1,500 lbs9 gallons14 gallons21 gallons

As you can see, a cow’s water requirements will increase as they grow in size, and they will need even more water when they are producing milk. Temperature also has a very apparent impact on a cow’s water intake, with cows needing much more water during the summer heat.

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The Importance Of Clean Water

Water is possibly the most vital nutrient for a cow, as it has an impact on so many of a cow’s body functions. Lactation, digestion, body temperature regulation, reproduction, internal body pH balancing, and joint lubrication are just a few of the key body functions that are facilitated by hydration.

Recent studies done by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicate that cows that drink more water will also produce more milk. A cow’s bodies naturally respond to dry periods of weather where there isn’t rain by driving them to consume more water. The studies showed that cows that consumed lots of water responded better to heat stress and were still able to have great milk production.

Water quality is also incredibly vital. The pH balance, electrolytes, salinity, nitrates, sulfates, and microorganisms within fresh water will greatly impact how the water will affect your cows’ overall health. 

For example, acidic water is known to cause what is known as rumen acidosis in cows which will reduce their feed intake, cause diarrhea, and possibly create respiratory issues. On the other hand, highly alkaline water can cause serious digestive issues and basically act as a laxative if the water is also high in sulfates. Therefore, you should always test the quality of your water before putting it in the trough.

Ways To Tell If A Cow Is Dehydrated

There are fortunately some tell-tale signs that your cow has become dehydrated. Behavioral changes and differences in excrement will usually indicate that your cow isn’t drinking enough water.

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When a cow becomes dehydrated, their feces will also grow drier. If their poop becomes more constipated and firm, this is usually an indication that they need more water, but may suggest other health issues. Similarly, you will notice that the amount of urine that they produce will be limited and could be more odorous.

Dehydrated cows will also have physical characteristics that show their need for water. Their skin will usually tighten around their face, and their eyes will appear to be more sunken and dull. A dehydrated body won’t be able to properly produce the natural body fluids needed to keep their eyes and eye membranes moist, so they may grow crusty or dry in appearance.

Ways Cows Lose Water

There are many things that can influence a cow’s body to cause them to lose water. Most cattle will lose water through natural body functions such as urine, sweat, general evaporation, milk production and even through their feces.

Dietary influences can cause a cow to retain or lose more water. Approximately 70 percent of all water intake comes from drinking, but about 30 percent should come from the feed that the cows eat. Green chop, silages, or pasture feeds are known to be high in moisture and can account for a good amount of a cow’s daily water intake.

If a cow’s digestive system is upset or they’ve grown sick, symptoms such as diarrhea will greatly affect how much water a cow loses throughout the day. If you notice that your cow is symptomatic of an illness, you may want to call in an animal health expert to make sure it isn’t anything more serious than dehydration.

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How Often Do Cows Need To Drink Water?

Cows should have access to clean drinking water at all times. As previously discussed, water is one of the most essential nutrients for a cow’s survival.

In order for your cows to thrive, you’ll need to have a few sources for them to drink from. There are many approaches to how to strategically place your water sources in your pasture. You’ll generally want to have one primary water trough that is placed centrally for all of your cows to have access to.

This primary water source should also be supplemented with maybe one or two other sources that are at opposite ends of the pen’s perimeter. Your cows will then be able to easily find and drink water no matter where they are during the day.

How Much Water Does A Cow Need To Drink In A Day?

Depending on the size of the animal and time of year, a cow’s water intake levels will vary. In the winter, a newborn calf will only need about 4 gallons of water per day due to the lower temperatures and small body size. A fully grown steer that’s 1,500+ pounds in weight can drink as much as 30 gallons of water during the hot weather of summer.

Taking care of cows during the winter and summer are two very different experiences, and knowing their water consumption during these times of year can make a huge difference.

Leland Orfield

Raised in Wisconsin, Leland has spent most of his life adjacent to the rich farmlands of the Midwest. He has visited many farms while exploring his home state, which eventually led him to work directly with farmers on a variety of projects. Between building furniture with Amish-milled wood and helping a local farmer construct a greenhouse, Leland developed a deep interest in homesteading and wants to one day have farmland of his own. Leland is able to combine his love of writing and recent passion for agriculture by writing articles focused on a variety of aspects of farming and homesteading.

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