Proper water quality can translate into better milk production and herd health, according to a new study prepared by researchers at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
About a quarter of Pennsylvania dairies studied had at least one water quality issue. Average milk production for those farms was about 10% lower than farms with good water quality, the study found.
Bryan Swistock, Penn State Extension water resources specialist, said most dairy farms test water supplies for bacteria, but don't implement additional testing for salts, metals and other parameters that can affect herd performance.
Swistock said the less-tested parameters – nitrates, calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, manganese, chloride, copper and others – can be identifiers of chronic herd performance issues.
More than 240 dairy farmers participated in the study, which analyzed 13 common water quality parameters. The farms in the study encompassed 51,000 acres and 18,000 cows with an average milk production level ranging from 20 to 90 pounds of milk per cow per day.
Overall, 26% of the farms had one or more water quality issues. None of the farms with milk production above 75 pounds of milk per cow per day had water problems, but farms that fell below 50 pounds of milk per cow per day had at least one water quality problem.
Only 3% of the farms in the study had water meters to document water consumption by their herd.
Swistock said water meters are helpful in monitoring a dairy herd's intake, and providing alternative sources of water to a subset of the herd could collect more evidence of potential effects water quality is having on production. Dairy cows can consume 20-50 gallons of water per day.
Meters may also help determine if intake is limited due to off-flavors or odors, Penn State notes.
According the University of Kentucky Extension service, water quality can also affect production in beef herds.
News source: Penn State, UK Extensions