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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Graham

Water is a Nutrient!

Most people know water is a necessity to survive but understanding the role water plays on nutrition and production is often neglected. Water makes up 60% of an animal's body composition. It is the nutrient with the greatest daily requirement and the only nutrient that needs continuous supply. Water is a major component in body metabolism and thermoregulation.


Most metabolic functions occur in aqueous environments and therefore, need water to proceed. Water is a universal solvent used to transport nutrients and waste. The molecule of water also plays a role in many chemical reactions such as hydrolysis and oxidation. Cushioning and lubrication of organs involves cerebrospinal fluid, mucous, saliva, etc. All these substances contain water.


Water has a very high specific heat capacity which is why it plays a crucial role in thermoregulation. A specific heat capacity is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of the water by one-degree celsius. This heat capacity allows water to absorb heat from chemical reactions in the body without changing the overall body temperature. Water also has a high thermal conductivity which means the ability to transfer heat from the deep body tissues to the surface. Panting and sweating are then used to expel this heat from the surface of the body.


The body does not have storage for water and therefore, the input is consistent with the output. However, animals that are sick will often excrete more water than they are consuming (diarrhea)

which will cause an imbalance and play a role in their recovery. Water needs to be readily

available at all times for cattle because the majority of the water intake comes from drinking water. With small amounts of water being contained in feedstuff and some metabolic water. Here at P Cross, we are installing new, larger water troughs in our feedlot pens to provide a larger and more accessible water source for the cattle. Our goal of these troughs is to limit competition at the source and provide adequate quality and quantity for each individual animal.


There are a few factors that affect the water intake and requirements of cattle. The first is environmental conditions. When the weather is hot for an extended period, the water intake increases significantly in an attempt to provide thermoregulatory properties. The water content of the diet also affects the quantity of free water drank. Diets with silage or other moist feeds lower the free water intake. However, diets high in protein or salt increase the free water intake. This occurs as increased protein provides excess nitrogen which needs to be excreted in urea, which requires water. The physiological state and health status are other factors that affect free water intake. A dry vs lactating cow or an animal with diarrhea vs an animal without.


We recommend checking water quality once a year with a simple sample sent to the Ministry of Agriculture. This provides you with the total dissolved solids and salinity concerns. This will allow you or your nutritionist to compensate for these values with the diet or prevent you from using a contaminated water source that will decrease production or cause mortality.

Things to water out for regarding water intake or water quality include reduction in feed intake, increased body temperature and respiration, sunken eyes or shriveled skin, lack of muscle coordination, and mortality.

Features of good water include clear and colourless, low total solids, no chemicals or disease organisms, and no undesirable flavour or odor.



Water is a nutrient and needs to be considered as one! Check water quality and quantity to ensure requirements are being met! Conditions like drought play a large role in water quality and quantity so take that into consideration for each water source and get your water tested.




















Resources- university notes.

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