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The True Cost of Poor Water Quality in a Dairy Operation

Dairy producers are always looking for ways to gain efficiency while reducing costs. That’s just good business. But, some budget cuts can cost you more in the long run than what you saved in the first place. And alternatively, some investment in prevention can pay dividends down the line.

Take water quality for example. It can be hard to see the value in spending money in this area. If your water supply looks and smells clean, you may not realize you need to take action. But, economically-impactful pathogens often spread through water lines undetected if you’re not testing or treating your water.  

Today we face a lot of unknowns, like the transmissibility of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and how it may affect health and productivity in our dairy herds. It’s never a good time to skimp on water quality, but now it could be especially risky. Let’s examine the costs of not being proactive with water quality management.

Water Quality Impacts Immunity

“Water is arguably the most important nutrient. Its quality is one of the most important factors in maximizing production. We understand today that dairy cows have a huge genetic potential to produce 120 pounds of milk [per day]. But, when we go to farms, we see a gap between that potential and the actual production. One of the reasons is that these cows have compromised immune systems,” said Elliot Neto, Ph.D., a technical services manager with Kemin. 

“Once the cow’s immune response is actively combating a virus or bacteria, it is draining a lot of energy that should go to milk production,” he added.

Neto said that it’s not just pathogens in water that compromise immunity. Contamination from algae formation, protozoa colonization, and other factors can affect water quality and, therefore, immunity.

This lowered immunity comes at a cost to your operation:

  • Increased susceptibility to infectious diseases and illnesses, like mastitis.
  • Reduced milk production, as stress diverts energy and resources needed for this function.
  • Poor reproductive performance that can impact your overall productivity and profitability.
  • Higher veterinary and treatment costs for cows that require more frequent veterinary interventions and medical treatments.
  • Lost profits from discarding milk from cows being treated for illness.

Elevated risk of culling due to frequent health problems.

Clean Water Cost Savings

Despite the immune challenges that can stem from poor water quality, it is frequently overlooked by producers, veterinarians, and nutritionists. Even when faced with immunological challenges in a herd, it may not be top of mind.

“Nutritionists and consultants go to farms and take feed samples to analyze what's coming in the feed, but they’re not necessarily taking water samples,” Neto said.

What Goes into a Water Management Strategy

Neto recommends a comprehensive water management strategy to keep your herd healthy and productive. He said when his team tests water, they are mainly looking for bacterial contamination and protozoan parasites. He also pointed to fungi, biofilm, and algae formation in troughs as factors that limit cows’ water intake.

“Poor water quality can create a bad taste and odor that just makes the cow drink less water,” he said.

When cows don’t drink enough, it reduces their dry matter intake (DMI) and their milk production, in addition to causing other challenges. It can also worsen issues caused by poor water quality, like compromised immunity. That’s why ensuring your workers understand the importance of water quality is crucial.

“Training your labor is the most important. Workers must understand that it is not a simple task. It is a very important task and needs to be done very consistently, without skipping any steps,” said Neto.

“When you drain a trough, you have to make sure you drain 100% of the water because if you leave the bottom 5%, it can have a huge bacteria count. And then, in 24 hours, things are just super contaminated again,” he said. “Another aspect is always keeping an eye on the water troughs. Because sometimes the next cleaning may be in 2-3 days, but if they see that it needs cleaning, they need to find time.”

Ensuring your water management strategy also includes continuous disinfection with a chlorine dioxide disinfectant with proven efficacy against bacterial, viral, and fungal pathogens, which can help reduce this labor time.

An Investment in Proactive Water Quality Management Pays Off

Neto recently worked on a water disinfection system customer trial that showed remarkable results, especially when it came to health events. “In terms of mastitis and pneumonia, we saw a significant reduction. So, if it helps you with pneumonia and mastitis, it's already worth implementing this technology,” explained Neto.

Neto said the producer who took part in the trial saw significant cost savings and a reduction in labor. “Instead of cleaning the troughs, let's say, twice a week, you can start cleaning once a week. And, with a shortage in labor, that's very impactful on a dairy. Now you can have the same workers taking care of calves or work on other areas on the farm, rather than cleaning those troughs,” he said.

In the trial, cows consumed water treated with a broad-spectrum, chlorine dioxide disinfectant (PRO-OXINE® AH). Not only did the frequency of health-related incidents decrease, but cows were more resilient when under the stress of immunity challenges and other factors. They were able to sustain peak milk production for extended periods.

Overall, the improved management of water quality was associated with substantial cost savings for the dairy farm: $452,362 over a year compared to using untreated water.1 This figure doesn’t even account for the possible reduction in the labor.

Can You Afford to Ignore Your Water Quality?

Knowing the significant costs associated with poor water quality, can you really afford to trim a water management strategy from your budget? Work with your nutritionist to develop one and help increase productivity in your operation.

“I think this must be repeated over and over again: Water is the number one most important nutrient for dairy cows… and for life in general,” concluded Neto.

Learn more at today.



1TD-23-9376, Improvements in water quality, performance, and health during dairy farm trial of PRO-OXINE AH.

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