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Ag Matters column: Good quality drinking water is essential for livestock

Water is the most important nutrient livestock require.

If dry conditions persist, livestock producers should be aware of the quality of water they provide for their livestock.

The issue of quality becomes as important as quantity if there will be a decrease in surface water in pastures that depend on ponds for watering cattle. Many livestock producers are feeling the effects of consecutive dry years. This problem may be compounded by inadequate snowfall or spring rains to replenish ponds and dugouts, so producers may find quality and quantity of water for livestock a concern as summer progresses.

Excess nutrients can also create unwanted problems. Nutrients in the water can be the result of agricultural application of nitrate and sulfate fertilizer; inadequate animal manure and human waste control systems; soil minerals; and in some areas, salt leaching from the ground.

To determine the safety of water for livestock, testing is very important. Samples can be collected in any clean bottle and sent, as soon as possible after collection, to a lab to be analyzed. Tests should include conductivity, sulfates, total dissolved solids and nitrates.

Producers who need help in evaluating their test results should use the Water Quality Interpretation Tool at . Producers should enter their results and select "livestock water," then click on "submit." They'll receive an explanation of their water test results.

As temperatures increase, producers also need to be aware of algae growth in ponds. While not all algae are toxic, keeping livestock away from this potentially toxic source always is wise. Also watch for small dead animals, such as mice and birds, along the shoreline. Dead animals are an indication the water is hazardous to livestock. For more information on cyanobacteria, or the green scum that builds up in ponds, go to NDSU publication V-1136 at

For more information, contact me at the Polk County Extension office in McIntosh or at the Clearwater County Extension office on Wednesdays. Our toll free number is 800-450-2465. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at Source: Roxanne Johnson, North Dakota State University Water Quality Specialist.