Don’t Let Unclean Water Rob Livestock Performance

Water is water, right? Wrong.
When it comes to the performance of a production herd or flock, the source, quantity, quality and composition of water can have a major impact on how animals perform. Not only should water be available in sufficient quantities, but it should have the right balance in pH and minerals and other components in order to maximize digestive function, gut health and overall animal performance.

Even the slightest imbalance in these components can cause nutrient deficiencies, gastrointestinal problems and other ailments that can contribute to a lag in feed efficiency, health and overall productivity. Those consequences, as well as when and how they manifest in an animal’s life, make it important to account for water when providing for any swine herd or poultry flock.

What is “Clean” Water?
Water quality can vary widely and it can have some serious effects on animal health. The vast majority of an animal’s body is comprised of water, but the implications of unclean water can be more profound on younger  animals.

Water quality and quantity are key for optimal animal performance because water is the most important nutrient for animals. As a percentage of body weight, young animals have a higher percentage of body mass as water versus adult animals. That makes water especially critical for young animals. As water intake is decreased, feed intake will also likely decline. And as we know, feed intake is imperative for profitable animal performance.

The first step in determining the basic cleanliness of your water is a simple one: Would you drink from the same water source as your livestock or poultry? If no, then why not?
Sometimes, all it takes is a look or smell to determine if your water supply isn’t clean. When hydrogen sulfides are in excessive concentrations because of bacterial growth inside a water line, for example, water typically has the odor of rotten eggs. A quick inspection of watering systems is a good first step in determining if any conditions are potentially causing a drag on animal performance.

The Connection Between Water and Stress 
While the cleanliness of water can have a considerable impact on overall animal health, so too can the general availability of water — especially at critical times. Any condition or life stage that causes animal stress can be intensified when the right amount of clean water is unavailable. Those points of stress can adversely affect animal performance by weakening the tight junctions in gastrointestinal epithelial tissue, which can open the door to other health problems.

Animal movements, dietary changes and other stressors can impact gut health. Weaning animals from mother’s milk is the best example of both a movement and dietary stressor. During this time, ensuring water quality and quantity is critical for the young animal’s performance.

The Function of Acidifiers
Preventing weakened gut health, whether caused by unclean water or the absence of clean water during times of stress, can be prevented by adding an acidifier to water systems. A water acidifier can lower pH levels and help balance gastrointestinal bacteria levels, removing a key barrier to feed consumption and lowering the incidence of gut health challenges brought on by unclean water.

A water acidifier is beneficial at weaning because it allows the young animal time to transition their stomach acidity from high pH, due to the previous milk diet, to a lower pH. Lower pH levels in the stomach keep bacterial populations low, preventing enteric challenges. Using acidifiers to get a pH of 5.0 thus will act as an antibacterial administered via water. Many changes occur in livestock as they shift from nutrient-dense diets to a common grain-based diet. This is another excellent time to administer acidifiers to the young, growing animals.

Since water is the most important nutrient to animals, it is critical that you know the water quality and measure the water quantity delivered to livestock and poultry. Clean water lines ensure that adequate water supply is being delivered to the animals as water demands increase with animal weight.

To learn more about optimal gut health and how clean feed and water play a role, visit