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K-State Research and Extension

How much water does a cow need?

Cattle grazing

Kansas State University researchers say a recent study indicates that it’s possible to select cattle that would drink less water and still perform well during times of drought or heat stress. 

What are we doing

The cattle industry has sparse information on how much water individual cattle drink each day. Most research to date has estimated an animal’s water intake based on an average for an entire pen of cattle. Knowing individual differences in water intake could eventually help producers select cattle for genetic traits that make those animals more resilient to drought and heat stress. Animal scientists are studying the effect of water intake on a cow’s ability to adapt to drought or heat stress.

Our impact

Researchers at Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University have determined testing guidelines for measuring water intake efficiency in cows. The recommended guideline is 35 to 42 days, and as long as a farm or other facility has the necessary testing equipment, it can be done at the same time as tests for feed efficiency, another important industry measure for growth performance.

K-State’s work will lead to greater understanding of water intake, which could eventually allow producers to select cattle based on their tolerance to drought and heat stress. 

This project is funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The project is in the fourth of five years of funding.


Read the full story on the K-State Research and Extension News page


“If you’re pumping groundwater to animals or if you’re in an area where there is a drought that particular year and your surface water is being depleted or of poor quality, (water intake) becomes more of an attractive trait to think about from a selection perspective.”

-- Megan Rolf, assistant professor, animal breeding and genetics, Kansas State University