Genetics And Cattle Water Intake

Genetics play a big role in beef herd selection from reproductive performance to body measurements. Researchers at Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University have been studying if genetics can also play a role in water intake. Selecting animals that can thrive on less water would be valuable in drought and heat stress situations.

Megan Rolf is an assistant professor of breeding and genetics at Kansas State. She says there is water intake information on pens of animals, but not individuals. Over the past four-years, they’ve studied over 800 steers.

"We collected carcass data on these animals, average daily gain measures, immune function and health of the animals, as well as some behavior data and things of that nature to really try and get and get a more comprehensive understanding of water intake as a phenotype," says Rolf. "And, with 800 or so records, we also have the ability to genotype those animals and use that genomic data to estimate those genetic parameters."

Rolf says they’ve discovered that water intake is a heritable trait, but they don’t have definitive recommendations yet. In the meantime, if producers are interested in this trait, they should communicate that to their breed association.

"A lot of the selection tools to get developed will be developed through efforts at that breed association," he says. "They may work with researchers like myself and things like that, but in terms of collecting enough phenotypes to do a national genetic evaluation for that takes kind of a big concerted effort driven by breed associations."  

Learn more about the study on genetics and water intake