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Invited review: Freedom from thirst—Do dairy cows and calves have sufficient access to drinking water?

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The importance of drinking water for production and animal welfare is widely recognized, but surveys and animal welfare assessment schemes suggest that many dairy calves and dairy cows do not have sufficient access. Limit milk-fed calves drink more water than calves fed milk ad libitum, but ad libitum milk-fed calves also require access to drinking water, as milk does not meet the animal's requirement for water. At hot ambient temperatures and when calves are sick, access to water is especially important and should be provided at all times. Many young calves do not have access to water throughout 24 h, and whether healthy young calves require free access to water at all times, or from which age, is not clear and requires further study. Dairy cow free water intake (FWI) is largely determined by milk yield, and high-yielding dairy cows may drink up 100 L of water per day. Dry matter, crude protein, and salt content of feed, as well as ambient temperature, have considerable effects on dairy cow water intake. Deprivation of water affects meal patterning for the cow, as well as increased subsequent rate of drinking and compensatory water intake. Although dairy cow ad libitum water intake may exceed the water provision necessary to maintain production, offering water for ad libitum intake may be necessary to safe guard animal welfare. Cattle are suction drinkers that prefer to drink from large open water surfaces, and Holstein dairy cows can drink at a rate of up to 24 L/min. Research on the effect of design and placement of water troughs for indoor-housed dairy cows on their drinking behavior and water intake is limited. Access to a water source at pasture increases the time cows spend there, and access to shade reduces water requirements during periods of warm weather. In both indoor and pastured cattle, there is a lack of knowledge about the effect of stocking of water troughs on competition, drinking behavior, and intake in dairy cows. Studies on the effect of available water trough length and placement, and of the number of cows being able to drink from the same trough of a given dimension, are needed to evaluate current recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Pages (from-to)11368-11385
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Dairy Science Association

    Research areas

  • animal welfare, behavior, drinking trough, free water intake, production

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