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Testing Livestock Water Quality

Ponds and creeks provide a convenient source of drinking water for livestock, but they can also serve as a reservoir for disease organisms and toxins. If your animals are showing signs of gastrointestinal upset, salivation, and have difficulty walking, you might want to test the water.

David Fernandez is an extension livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He says there are four contaminants to watch for.

"I’d be looking at salinity or total dissolved solids, nitrogen levels and in particular looking at nitrates and nitrites, bacteria, and then blue-green algae. If those weren’t really what came up, I’d be thinking about some accidental sources of contamination like petroleum spills, or pesticide spills, or fertilizer spills," says Fernandez. " But you wouldn’t really test for those so much in the water as you would look for evidence of that having happened around the water."

Bacteria often develop when animals are loafing in the pond. Nitrates come from fertilizer run-off and if converted to nitrites, can prevent oxygen from being carried in the blood.

High salinity, or saltiness, can upset the animals’ water balance and even cause death.

"Once we start getting above about 5,000 ppm you can start having problems with your animals not wanting to drink, it may not be safe for calves or pregnant females," he says. "And then anything over 7,000 ppm you really need to avoid, and over 10,000 would be unsafe and shouldn’t be used at all."

Fernandez says to take a water sample to your local extension office and have them test it. He recommends testing twice a year.