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Water Quality and Availability

Depending on where the ranch or farm is located, dugouts may have recharged with spring runoff. Northern parts of Alberta had substantial snowfall and many of the dugouts are full. As you go south, snowfall was less plentiful and, the spring melt did not produce much runoff.

On average, a 1400 pound lactating cow will consume 62 litres or 13.6 gallons of water when temperatures are 25 degrees Celsius. At 34 degrees Celsius, water intake increases to 112 litres or 24.6 gallons per day.

When there is no recharge in the dugout, the minerals present in the water become more concentrated. Evaporation from the dugouts contributes to the increase in mineral content. This can cause nutritional imbalances. A study completed in Saskatchewan (2017) found that 49% of the samples contained sulfur levels at 2000 ppm or higher. These levels are high enough to cause polio.

Cows that are allowed to walk into a dugout stir up the bottom causing an increase in Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) or “mud” that is suspended in the water. As TDS levels increase, the amount of water consumed decreases. When water intake decreases, the ability of the cow to consume forage also goes down.

Dr. Walter Wilms conducted research comparing animal performance when cows either walked into the dugout to drink, or from a water system attached to a fenced off dugout. The test period was 30 days. Cows drinking from the dugout did not gain any weight. Those drinking from a water system gained 16 pounds. The calf growth for the calves was 22 pounds higher for those on the water system. In a second trial, steers gained an additional 44 pounds over 71 days when drinking from a water system.

The bigger question is: will the dugouts have sufficient amounts of water to last the summer? If not, what is the backup plan? Is there a way to pump water in from a creek or river to refill the dugouts? Alberta Agriculture has a Dugout Pumping Program that provides equipment to help fill dugouts.

For additional information about water quality, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or


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