Compiled by staff

January 27, 2017

2 Min Read
DRINKABLE? Coliforms and other bacteria aren’t the only water quality issues that can dampen milk production.

Sure, your farm’s water source may have a low bacterial count — considered safe enough for you and your dairy cows to drink. But if it’s highly mineralized, it still may be hurting milk production. That’s the bottom line of a study involving 18 northern New York farms.

Researchers with the W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy, N.Y., sampled and analyzed water from participating farms for minerals, pH, hardness, sulfates, nitrates and bacteria. Then those samples were used to conduct fiber digestion analyses of common dairy forages.

First finding: None of the water samples collected for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program project were of poor quality, noted Kurt Cotanch, director of Miner Institute Forage Lab. Poor water quality, for the purpose of this report, was defined as having one or more components above the acceptable concentration as defined by Dairy One Forage Laboratory.

Mineralized water can be a troublemaker
A positive correlation existed between sodium and nitrate levels and fiber digestion. An increase in sodium level showed a moderate increase in the fiber digestibility of some forages, including grass silage.

A negative correlation was found with high magnesium and potassium levels in the drinking water. For example, digestibility of conventional corn silage was significantly reduced as magnesium levels in water samples increased.

“Water quality deserves consideration for the nutrients the water can provide in dairy ration formulation,” summarized Cotanch. For instance, previous research conducted in South Dakota indicated that low water quality, defined as water having mineral, bacterial or other compound levels above a prescribe “normal” range, could decrease fiber digestion. Other research found that high concentrations of sulfur or iron can produce an unpleasant taste or odor that may cause cows to decrease water intake, thereby decreasing milk production.

A Pennsylvania study found that water sources on 26% of surveyed dairy farms contained excessive concentrations of one or more soluble minerals that can potentially decrease milk production. Excess minerals in drinking water can cause toxicity or other problems, such as chronic poor performance or interference with absorption of other minerals.

For more details, check out the “Do high mineral concentrations in water affect fiber digestibility, cow health and performance on Northern New York dairy farms?” at the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website:

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