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Water Quality and Dugout Treatment Trial Results

By: Halsey Shaheen, BSc, AAg, Regional Livestock Specialist

February 2017

While most surface water sources are frozen solid this time of year, it is a good time to start planning ahead and thinking about water supplies for the 2017 grazing season. Water is the single most important nutrient for livestock and it is the most abundant component in the body. Poor water quality may affect animal performance. Sometimes the effects will go unnoticed until larger scale herd symptoms can be seen such as conception problems or even animal deaths in extreme cases. Other less obvious symptoms include decreased milk production, weight gains and immunity that will lead to reduced feed efficiency and increased treatment costs. All of these effects will have a negative impact on the producer’s bottom line.

One common mineral issue in Saskatchewan water sources is sulphates. Elevated sulphates typically do not present a visual change or produce an odour. High sulphates cause a variety of effects that are often difficult to identify. Typically surface water evaporates as the summer progresses, which results in concentration of the sulphates. Another common issue in Saskatchewan dugouts is cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. Some strains of cyanobacteria are potentially dangerous and in the right conditions will produce deadly toxins that act on the nervous system and/or liver. There are multiple water treatment products available to Saskatchewan producers to try and mitigate the deleterious effects of poor quality water, however, there is limited research surrounding the efficacy of these products.

Water samples from four different dugouts
within a few kilometres of each other,
comparing the dissolved sulphate levels (mg/L).
Appearance is not always indicative of quality.
During the 2016 grazing season, Regional Livestock Specialists in Moose Jaw, Outlook and Watrous conducted a project through the Agriculture Demonstration of Practices and Technologies (ADOPT) program to study water quality and the efficacy of four treatment products that are available to producers. Four dugouts in each area were treated with one of the four treatment products and monitored for quality throughout the grazing season. The four products used in the study were Nature’s Pond Conditioner, Pond Boss, Ponder and a product new to Saskatchewan, AquaSpherePRO by Bioverse. During this study, it did not appear that any of the products were effective at improving water quality or removing contaminants from the water. In addition, none were seen to be effective at killing cyanobacteria and preventing its regrowth. These products were also more expensive than copper sulfate products that are known to be effective at treating dugouts for cyanobacteria.

In many cases, changing management can help to reduce the impact of poor quality water. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so testing is the first step in determining water quality. Both surface and ground water can and often will change quality over time, therefore routine testing is recommended. Feed testing is also recommended so that the complete diet can be examined and to ensure the correct mineral package is being supplemented.

For more information you can contact your local Regional Livestock Specialist, or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377. 

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