Interpretation of Water Analysis for Livestock Suitability

Water is important nutrient to all livestock and poultry. As with feed ingredients, livestock water should meet the nutritional needs of the animal. Most minerals and dissolved solids found in water provide nutritional benefits when present within limited concentrations. This paper can be used as a guide to the recommended limits of certain substances commonly found in water used for livestock and poultry.

Guidelines for Evaluating the Quality of Water for Livestock

Quality Factor

Threshold Concentration (ppm)

Limiting Concentrations (ppm)

Total dissolved solids (TDS)

2500

5000

Calcium

500

1000

Magnesium

250

500

Sodium

1000

2000

Bicarbonate

500

500

Chloride

1500

3000

Nitrate (see table for more detailed listing)

200

400

Sulfate (see table for more detailed listing)

500

1000

Range of pH

6.0 to 8.5

5.6 to 9.0

Conductivity/Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

Total Dissolved Solids is a general term defining the sum of all inorganic matter dissolved in water. Conductivity is what the lab uses to calculate the TDS of the water. Water that has a high TDS is said to be saline, however salinity should not be confused with water hardness. Saline water can be soft if it contains low levels of calcium and magnesium.

General Guide Conductivity and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) to Livestock and Poultry Response

Conductivity (mmhos/cm)

TDS (mg/L or ppm)

Comments

Less than 1.56

Less than 1,000

Relatively low in salinity. Excellent for all classes of livestock and poultry.

4.56 to 4.68

1,000 to 2,999

Very satisfactory for all classes of livestock and poultry. May cause temporary and mild diarrhea in livestock not accustomed to the water or watery droppings in poultry.

4.69 to 7.80

3,000 to 4,999

Satisfactory for livestock, but may cause temporary diarrhea or be refused at first by animals not accustomed to the water. Poor water for poultry, often causing watery feces, increased mortality, and decreased growth, especially in turkeys.

7.81 to 10.93

5,000 to 6,999

Can be used with reasonable safety for dairy and beef cattle, for sheep, swine, and horses. Avoid use for pregnant or lactating animals. Not acceptable for poultry.

10.94 to 15.62

7,000 to 10,000

Unfit for poultry and probably for swine. Considerable risk in using for pregnant or lactating cows, cattle in confinement, horses, or sheep or for the young of these species. In general, use should be avoided although older ruminants, horses, poultry, and swine may subsist on them under certain conditions.

Over 15.62

Over 10,000

Risky with these highly saline waters are so great that they cannot be recommended for use under any conditions.

Iron

Besides sulfate (and chloride), iron in drinking water is probably the most frequent and important anti-quality consideration for dairy cattle. Whereas, iron deficiency in adult cattle is very rare because of abundant iron (Fe+3, ferric iron) in feedstuffs, excess total iron intake can be a problem; especially when drinking water contains high iron concentrations. Iron concentrations in drinking water greater than 0.3 ppm are considered a risk for human health, and are a concern for dairy cattle health and performance.

Nitrates

Large amounts of field runoff caused by heavy spring rains may cause nitrate levels to rise and fall dramatically in farm ponds. The chart below can be used as a guide to judge water usage based on nitrate levels in the water.

Guide to the Use of Waters Containing Nitrates for Livestock and Poultry

Nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) content ppm

Comments

Less than 100

Experimental evidence indicates that this water should not harm livestock or poultry (note: Nitrate levels from 3 to 20 ppm may affect poultry performance).

101 to 300

This water should not by itself harm livestock or poultry. If hays, forages or silages contain high levels of nitrate, this water may contribute significantly to a nitrate problem in cattle, sheep, or horses.

Over 300

This water could cause typical nitrate poisoning in cattle, sheep or horses and its use for these animals is not recommended. Because this level of nitrate contributes to the salt content in a significant amount, the use of this water for swine or poultry should be avoided.

Sulfate

When an excessive sulfate level is found in combination with high sodium and/or high magnesium, a laxative effect may result. High levels of sulfate may also produce a smell and taste to the water that may deter livestock from drinking the water.

Guide to the Use of Waters Containing Sulfates for Livestock and Poultry

Sulfate (SO4) content ppm

Comments

Less than 1500

No harmful effects except some temporary very mild diarrhea near upper limit.

1500 to 2500

No harmful effects except some temporary diarrhea. In cattle, this water may contribute significantly to the total sulfur dietary intake. 1,2

2501 to 3500

Poor water for poultry, especially turkeys. Very laxative, causing diarrhea in livestock that usually disappears after a few days. In cattle, this water may contribute significantly to total dietary sulfur intake. 1,2

3501 to 4500

Very laxative. Not recommended for use for pregnant or lactating cows, cattle in confinement, horses or sheep. Unacceptable for poultry. In cattle, this water may contribute significantly to the total dietary sulfur intake. 1,2

Over 4500

Not recommended for use under any conditions.

1Note: The suggested maximum concentration of sulfur in the diet of cattle to prevent polioencephalomalacia is 0.4% (4000 mg/kg or 4000 ppm) on a dry matter basis. Divide sulfate content by 3 to convert to sulfur content, e.g., 3000 mg/L SO4 = 1000 mg/L S.

2Loneragan, G.H., D.H. Gould, R.J. Callan, C.J. Sigurdson, D.W. Hamar. 12-1-98. Association of excess sulfur intake and an increase in hydrogen sulfide concentrations in the ruminal gas cap of recently weaned beef calves with polioencephalomalacia.

Toxic Elements

Certain elements, even when found at low levels, may be toxic to livestock because of cumulative effects. Maximum allowable levels are shown in the next chart.

Recommended Limits of Concentration of Some Potentially Toxic Substances in Drinking Water for Livestock Safe Upper Limit of Concentration

Element

Max Level ppm or mg/L

Element

Max Level ppm or mg/L

Aluminum (Al)

5.0

Fluorine (F)

2.0

Arsenic (As)

0.2

Lead (Pb)

0.1

Boron (B)

5.0

Manganese (Mn)

Off-taste flavor @ 0.05

Cadmium (Cd)

0.05

Mercury (Hg)

0.01

Chromium (Cr)

1.0

Nickel (Ni)

1.0

Cobolt (Co)

1.0

Selenium (Se)

0.05

Copper (Cu)

0.5

Zinc (Zn)

25.0