As producers move cattle on to pastures this spring, they should consider the health of their water sources, particularly after last year’s drought conditions.
Water is the most important nutrient to livestock, and poor water affects cattle growth and health.
Last year near Shamrock in southern Saskatchewan, more than 200 cattle died in a single community pasture after drinking dugout water containing excessive sulfate and total dissolved solid (TDS) levels.
Provincial livestock feed specialist Murray Feist said many producers responded by testing water sources last year, and that is likely to continue.
“We anticipate that guys will start testing more, and if it’s dry they’ll be testing hard,” he said.
Producers know that some dugouts are worse than others in certain conditions, and Feist said those who have poor dugouts should consider that they could be bad again this year.
“People should be testing this year,” he said.
“Allow two weeks before moving animals in, and that should give them enough time to plan ahead. We don’t have a lot of control over this.”
Hot, dry conditions can lead to evaporation and more concentrated TDS and sulfates in water. As well, a lack of spring runoff means dugouts weren’t recharged as much as they could have been.
However, Feist said widespread flooding can also cause problems. For example, well casings were flooded from the top near Yorkton, Sask., several years ago, which caused contamination.
The province and the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine reviewed data from 555 samples taken from dugouts and wells between July and October 2017 after the Shamrock incident.
They found extreme variation in the samples for conductivity, total dissolved solids and sulfate levels, and in many cases the standard deviation was greater than the calculated mean.
“These means indicate that each individual sample of water, regardless of source, is unique,” said the report.
The study concluded that using average values for TDS and sulfates isn’t useful to establish quality levels in the individual samples.
“Be aware that there is no accuracy in comparing a single sample against calculated averages,” it said.
Feist said producers should ask for help from either their provincial agriculture departments or private sector agrologists to make sure their water is tested and suitable for livestock.
Poor water quality will manifest itself through poorer milk production, poor weight gains on yearlings, blind cattle and death.
There are products on the market that claim to improve dugout quality.
An Agriculture Demonstration of Practices and Technologies study done by the Saskatchewan ministry in 2016 looked at products in four dugouts each in the Moose Jaw, Outlook and Watrous areas.
The dugouts were treated with Nature’s Pond Conditioner, Pond Boss, Ponder and AquaSpherePRO.
The study concluded that none of the products improved water quality and none killed cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae.