There are so many questions to ask when thinking about bringing home a family cow. But you might not have thought of this very important one: How much water does a dairy cow drink per day? The answer might surprise you!
We have two Jersey dairy cows here in the Interior of Alaska. Honey is our 4 year old and her first calf, Buttercup, is our 2 year old. Having family cows has been quite the adventure and we love them tremendously.
We have a small barn on our three-acre property. The cows have a large stall that they can freely go in and out of all day and night. It opens out into their fenced-in pasture. The barn also houses our chicken coop, waterfowl, calves, milking stanchion, and an extra calving stall.
We have our own dairy cows for, you guessed it, the raw milk! I milk both cows twice a day, depending on where they are in their breeding cycle. We love having our own raw milk and use it not only for drinking but for baking and making just about every dairy product that our family needs including butter, yogurt, soft and hard cheeses, and more.
There are so many aspects to having a family cow. Some things to consider include housing, hay and feed, veterinary care, supplies, breeding, and much more. But one often overlooked detail is daily water requirements! A lactating cow drinks a lot of water every day.
Water is so incredibly important to dairy cows so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re wondering how much water does a dairy cow drink per day, I’ll share our experiences with you along with some tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years.
How Much Water Does a Dairy Cow Drink Per Day?
A dairy cow can drink up to 30 gallons of water in a day! Or 113 liters of water. It takes about 10 gallons of water to make 5 gallons of milk. They drink A LOT of water!
Our cows produce much less than that since they’re smaller Jerseys, only about 2 1/2 to 3 gallons of milk per day so they don’t drink quite that much, about 20 gallons a day.
This is why a large stock tank that holds at least 50 gallons of water is very important to have when you bring home a dairy cow. Our tank is 75 gallons and with two cows in milk, we refill it every other day.
The amount of water can also fluctuate throughout the year due to environmental factors. Of course, they will drink a little more during hot weather to avoid heat stress than during the cold winter months. Also, if you have a dry cow (not in milk) they won’t drink as much.
Importance of Water for Dairy Cows
Milk is 80% water so you can see how important water consumption is to a dairy cow. They need an adaquate supply to be able to have good milk production.
Like all farm critters, water is essential for life and good animal health. Ignoring the importance of water for dairy cows will leave you with an unhappy, low-producing, unhealthy cow.
The reward for giving your cow as much clean water as she wants and needs comes in the form of milk yield and her manure and urine that will fertilize your land.
Cows drink most of their daily intake of water within an hour after milking. This means that they need to have access to plenty of clean, fresh water after milking. Make sure that your milking set-up and schedule allows them free access to their water supply immediately after milking when they drink the most water.
Equipment You May Need
Here are some basic water supplies you may need to ensure that your family cow gets enough water every day:
- Livestock Water Trough– You should have a trough size that holds at least 50 gallons of water. You might need a larger trough depending on the number of cows you have. Avoid metal tanks as they can react with the acid in rainwater. Heavy-duty plastic tanks work great.
- Hose– A good-quality hose will make filling your cow’s water trough much easier, especially if you live in a cold climate. We use a heavy-duty hose rated for below freezing temperatures so we can have good water flow all winter.
- Livestock Water Heater– A neccessity if you live in a cold climate. Not only to keep their water from freezing but also to warm it a little. Dairy cattle shouldn’t have to drink very cold water. The water temperature should be neither too hot or too cold.
- Water Sources– This seems obvious but it’s important to consider if your land has a source that can provide up to 30 gallons of water usage a day for your cow. A spigot on your house or barn will work so you can connect a hose and fill the tank as needed. Or a large water tank in the bed of a truck that can be taken to a water station, filled with water, and then emptied into the cow’s trough as needed.
Always check your cow’s drinking water on a daily basis to make sure they have plenty and there are no problems, such as a failing water heater or a leaking crack.
Water in the Winter
Living in Alaska, winter makes up about half of our year so we are often dealing with below freezing temperatures. There are a few steps we take to ensure that our cows still get the water that they need during the long, cold winter.
First, a water heater for livestock use is a must. We use this style but there are several other options. Find one that works for the size of trough that you have.
You will need a good quality outdoor extension cord and a safe way to plug it in.
We also use an outdoor timer so that the heater isn’t running constantly. The electric cost adds up quickly so using a timer can cut the cost of heating a cow’s water in half. We set the timer for 1 hour on then 1 hour off around the clock. This keeps the water thawed at all times. Once the temperature starts to warm up a bit, we can switch it to 1 hour on then 2 hours off to save even more.
I also recommend having a high-quality, cold-weather hose! Hauling a hose out in the dead of winter can be a pain, especially if it freezes in the short amount of time it takes you to drag it out and screw it in. Then it has to be taken into the house to thaw and you must try filling the water again later.
A high-quality spigot with a heat-trace on it is also essential during the cold weather months so that you don’t have to worry about thawing a frozen spigot.
Water for Calves
Dairy calves need water too! They’re not always able to reach down into a large livestock water trough. Or, if you have separated your calf and it has its own stall or fenced in area, it will need its own water trough or bucket.
If a calf is separated from its mother and is being bottle fed milk, it should be offered warm water afterwards from a bottle as well. As the calf gets a little older and can drink from a bucket, it should have access to clean water at all times in a small trough or bucket.
Calves don’t drink very much water during the day since they’re still receiving milk but they should be offered it anyways.
A calf left with its mother will have access to her water and will learn the habit of drinking from her. Just be sure it can reach down into the trough, depending on what size it is.
Tips for Water
Here are a few tips to ensure your family cow gets their proper daily water intake:
- Have Back-up Equipment– We make sure to have an extra livestock water heater and outdoor extension cord on hand just in case.
- Store Equipment Properly– At the end of the season, be sure to store any water related equipment properly so that it’s ready to go when you need it again. We keep a large storage tub for livestock water heaters, extension cords, timers, and heated water buckets. After winter, everything gets cleaned and wiped down then stored until we need it a few months later.
- Secure Water Buckets– Calves and cows alike love to rub their heads on anything, including the water bucket you put in their stall! When we have used heated water buckets (5 and 10 gallon sizes) they inevitably were knocked over and spilled by one of our cows or calves rubbing their heads on them. What a mess! We learned to use a ratchet strap to secure the bucket to a post. Large livestock water troughs are fine, it’s just the smaller buckets that you’ll want to secure.
- Check Your Spigot– If you are going to be filling your cow’s water using a hose and the spigot from your house, check the quality of your spigot. We have had more than one break on us. We finally put in a heavy-duty spigot that works great. Carrying a few buckets a day is not sufficient for the water needs of a dairy cow.
- Have a Back-up Water Source– As I said, outdoor spigots can break with heavy use. Have a back-up plan until you are able to get it fixed. We have an extra spigot in our utility room. We’re able to hook a hose up to it and send it out the window, allowing us to still easily fill our trough so they always have an adequate supply of fresh water.
How Much Water Does a Dairy Cow Drink Per Day?
How much water does a dairy cow drink per day is an essential question for families looking to have their own cow. Can your land support providing up to 30 gallons of water a day for a cow? Don’t ignore this most important nutrient in order to have a healthy and happy family cow!