The Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Pond for Livestock

By Emily Folk

Cattle drink between three and 30 gallons of water per day, depending on various factors including weight and temperature. Like all living things, they need sufficient amounts of clean water to maintain their health.

Much of the world’s livestock gets its drinking water from ponds. If that’s how you water your animals, keeping your pond healthy is essential for the health of your livestock and the productivity of your farm or ranch. Maintaining a healthy pond has many benefits for livestock.

Increased Hydration

Healthy ponds have higher-quality water. When water is of high quality, many kinds of livestock drink more of it. That improves hydration and keeps them healthier overall, as water is crucial for many of the body's processes.

Improved Disease Resistance

When livestock have access to clean, high-quality water, their disease resistance goes up along with their overall health.

Unhealthy ponds also contain various microorganisms that can cause diseases. A typical measure of water quality is the amount of E. coli bacteria present in it. Some strains of E. coli can cause illness, but it's also a useful sign of what else might be in the water. If 100 milliliters of water has more than 235 colony-forming units of E. coli in it, there are likely other germs present as well.

Increased Weight Gain

When livestock drink more water, which occurs when water quality is high, they also eat more. That, of course, causes them to gain more weight more quickly.

A 2002 study from Canadian researchers found calves whose mothers had access to cleaner water gained nine percent more weight. Yearling heifers gained between 20 and 23 percent more weight.

Increased Milk Production

Cows that drink more, higher-quality water may also have increased milk production. Research has shown when cows drink water with excessive levels of total dissolved solids, sulfates or iron, milk production decreases. The link between milk production and water quality is a major reason calves whose mothers have better-quality water gain more weight.

Increased Reproductive Rates

Water quality and water intake levels may also impact reproduction. Research suggests cows that drink more, higher-quality water have higher reproductive rates and healthier offspring.

Nitrate is the primary substance that can impact reproduction if present in drinking water. Studies have linked high levels of nitrate with longer calving intervals, more services per conception and lower first service conception rates. Increased nitrate levels often come from fertilizer runoff.

Other Benefits

Healthy ponds also have a range of other benefits that extend beyond livestock. They also provide various environmental services such as providing a habitat for wildlife, reducing soil erosion and improving watershed health.

They may also provide recreational opportunities such as fishing and swimming. Having a healthy pond also increases your property’s value.

How to Keep Your Pond Healthy

So, how can you keep your pond healthy? There is a lot of advice available on this topic, and you could spend quite a bit of time learning how to improve the health of your pond. Here are a few fundamental tips.

  • Create vegetative buffers: Plant a buffer, a strip of land about 50 feet wide containing grasses and trees, around your pond. The vegetation will help filter runoff. Tree cover will also help keep the water cool.
  • Minimize runoff: Vegetative buffers will help prevent excess nutrients from entering your water. Other helpful measures include minimizing the use of chemical fertilizers and not allowing animals to defecate in or near the pond.
  • Manage algae growth: Algae is important for ponds, but excessive amounts can introduce toxins and decrease oxygen levels in the water. Remove excess algae via physical, biological or chemical means.
  • Restrict animal access: Pumping water from a pond to your animals is often a better solution than allowing direct access. If you do allow direct access, restrict it to a relatively small area. If animals can access a pond directly, they may introduce contaminants to the water and erode the soil around it.
  • Regularly test the water: Conduct regular water quality tests to determine the contents of the water and whether you need to take measures to improve quality.

Adequate access to clean drinking water is crucial for the health and productivity of your livestock. If you use a pond for watering your animals, maintaining a healthy pond should be a top priority.

Emily is a sustainability writer and avid gardener. You can read more of her work on her site, Conservation Folks, where she writes about helping tomorrow’s planet today.