Livestock water testing important during variable conditions

Poor water quality can impact livestock health by resulting in decreased water consumption, reducing feed intake and gains.

alicia harstad
Alicia Harstad

Weather conditions across the county vary greatly. Some parts of the county have received rain, in some cases too much, whereas some areas still need rain. The quality of water available for livestock in ponds and dugouts should be monitored during these variable conditions. Drought conditions can comprise water quality by causing elevated levels of salts, minerals and bacteria.

Poor water quality can impact livestock health by resulting in decreased water consumption, reducing feed intake and gains and in some cases severe illness and even death. Hot temperatures can promote cyanobacteria blooms or also called blue-green algae growth which is toxic to livestock. Total dissolved solids (TDS) is the measure of salts in the water which can increase in a drought. TDS levels should not exceed 5,000 ppm for most classes of livestock. Sulfates and nitrates are specific salts that should be monitored to make sure they do not exceed the recommended consumption levels.

Water can be screened with a handheld salt meter for TDS and sulfate and nitrate strips to get an idea if water sources have water quality issues. If water samples are showing elevated TDS, nitrate or sulfate levels, water samples should be sent into the lab for accurate monitoring. A lab test is the only way to determine if algae blooms are toxic as not all cyanobacteria produce toxins. Remember when water sampling for cyanobacteria toxins to wear gloves as toxic blooms are also toxic to humans.

Water samples can be sent to the NDSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (701-231-8307, NDSU Dept. 7691, PO Box 6050 or 4035 19th Ave N, Fargo, ND 58102). Water samples can be obtained with any clean plastic (preferred) or glass container that is at least 1 quart in size. If submitting samples for cyanobacteria, the sample should be shipped overnight on an ice pack. Avoid sending samples on a Friday so they don’t sit in the mail or in the lab over the weekend.


For more information, contact Alicia Harstad at the Stutsman County Extension office at 701-252-9030 or

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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