Hydrating calves and for rumen development


We all know that water is vital for life. It is essential for hydrating calves and for rumen development.
There are many reasons why I’ve seen a lack of water for calves on farm. Situations vary, sometimes not enough water is provided per pen, other times water which is contaminated, and at times no water at all, especially in very young calves.
There is a common misconception that young calves on a milk diet are consuming enough liquid, and clean, fresh, ad-lib water is not always a priority. This is not the case.
In 1984, the Journal of Dairy Science published a study examining the growth, health and starter intake of calves fed free-choice water vs no water throughout the milk feeding period. The researchers found that when no freshwater was offered, starter intake was 31% less and weight gain was reduced by 38%.

Rumen development:
When a calf drinks water, the water goes into the rumen, as does the starter feed. Water in the rumen provides a medium for ruminal bacteria to live in. To ferment concentrates and forage, rumen bacteria must live in water. Without water ruminal development is slowed.
In a recent experiment in UK, grain intakes and growth rates were compared among calves with either ad-lib or no water through weaning. For both calves fed milk at either standard or accelerated rates, the consumption of calf starter grain was about 2.5 times greater with water compared to calves without free-choice water. Calves eating more grain, grew more rapidly – it is that simple, more water equals more pre-weaning growth.

Did you know?
Calves are about 70-75% water by bodyweight and need to consume fresh water in order to maintain normal cellular functions.
Pre-weaning: On average, calves consume 1L of water per 500g of dry matter intake
Post-weaning: Calves should consume 2L of water per 500g of dry matter intake. This ratio should extend through the heifer growing period
Hot weather: Expect water consumption to increase by 33% or more as temperatures reach over 23°C

Warm water or cold?
Calves actually prefer warm water! Huuskonene et al., 2011 found that water consumption of pre-weaned calves was higher in calves offered warm water compared with those offered cold water. However, the increased water intake of the calves offered warm water did not equate to increased weight gains.

A final note on water for calves is to ensure the quality of the water. Michigan State University Extension recommends periodically testing water sources for bacteria and mineral content. In general, livestock guidelines provided with water analysis are applicable to calves with the exception of sodium. Calves are very sensitive to sodium and do not tolerate excess sodium well. Water that has passed through a water softener can have very high concentrations of sodium and should not be used to mix milk replacer or used as a source of drinking water, unless it has been tested and verified to have low levels of sodium.
Researchers from Utah State University found increased daily gains and weaning weights when water buckets were dumped and rinsed daily compared to weekly or every 14 days. It is helpful to have a divider between the water and starter buckets in the calf pen so that the calf cannot slop back and forth between buckets.

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HSENI names new farm safety champions

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Written by William Kellett from Agriland

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) alongside the Farm Safety Partnership (FSP), has named new farm safety champions and commended the outstanding work on farm safety that has been carried out in the farming community in the last 20 years.

Two of these champions are Malcom Downey, retired principal inspector for the Agri/Food team in HSENI and Harry Sinclair, current chair of the Farm Safety Partnership and former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Improving farm safety is the key aim of HSENI’s and the FSP’s work and...