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Manure contamination of drinking water influences dairy cattle water intake and preference

Schütz, Karin E., Huddart, Frances J., Cox, Neil R.
Applied animal behaviour science 2019 v.217 pp. 16-20
animal behavior, cows, dairy cattle, drinking, feed intake, t-test, tap water, water pollution, water treatment
Water intake is closely related to feed intake and its reduction associated with negative welfare and production implications. This study aimed to assess the intake and preference for drinking water of different quality; clean (tap water), and water contaminated with either 0.05 mg (Low) or 1 mg (High) fresh manure/g water. Water and feed intake of 18 non-lactating, pregnant cows were monitored in individual, indoor pens. Each cow was given one of the three water treatments for 5 days, then a different treatment for a second 5-day period (no choice), and finally access to both in a choice test (5 days). Data were analysed using REML and paired t-tests. Contamination of water significantly affected intake in the no choice phase (P < 0.001). Cows provided with Low or High contaminated water had 10 and 28%, respectively, lower water intake than those provide with clean water (Clean: 37.0 L/day, range: 28.4–53.6; Low: 33.2 L/day, range: 26.0–44.9; High: 26.6 L/day, range: 13.6–37.8). Feed intake was not influenced by water treatment. During the choice test, cows showed a clear preference for clean water over water contaminated with manure (Clean vs. Low: 19.8 vs. 6.5 L, P = 0.014, SED: 3.60 L; Clean vs. High: 29.8 vs. 0.21 L, P < 0.001, SED: 1.82; and Low vs. High: 27.2 L vs. 0.29 L, P < 0.001, SED: 1.70). Cows only consumed 1% of their daily water intake from the High treatment when they had another option. In conclusion, dairy cattle can detect low levels of manure contamination in their drinking water, and avoid drinking it if possible. The preference to drink clean water was particularly clear. This study highlights the importance of providing cattle with clean drinking water.