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Successful sheep production requires a continual supply of clean, fresh water at a temperature that will optimize intake. How many producers would like to stand outside and drink a glass of ice tea this time of year? Probably not very many, but a cup of hot tea would hit the spot. Sheep prefer and will consume larger quantities of warm water than cold water. Water has three important roles in the animal's body: (1) to serve as a coolant; (2) to transport nutrients and wastes; and (3) to provide a medium

for chemical reactions.

Generally, if the water source is high quality, intake will increase as dry mater intake increases. Daily water consumption should be two to four times that of dry matter intake and increases with high-protein and salt containing diets. Sheep that are denied water for more than 24 hours may eat little or no dry feed. On the other hand, excessive water in feedstuffs, like silage and succulent forage, may reduce water intake from other sources. Water intake increases by the last half of the gestation period and doubles during lactation. If you ever wondered why the animals were not milking enough, do not overlook the possibility that they are not drinking enough water because it is too cold.

The factor that governs water consumption more than any other is the temperature of the water itself. Ideal water temperature is between 45 degrees and 55 degrees F. Heaters can be used in winter to keep the water as close to the ideal temperature as possible. Continuous flow sources are excellent, but consumption of extremely cold water requires extra feed to maintain body temperature. If only ice water is available to animals consuming large amounts of roughage in winter, they may not consume enough water to efficiently digest high roughage diets. In turn, feed intake decreases and total productivity decreases.

A clean and continual water supply is essential for feedlot animals. Those that drink frequently and consume more water have fewer digestive problems and a lower incidence of urinary calculi. They also achieve more efficient use of their diets, compared to animals watered only once or twice daily. 

By Tom Drudik, UNL Extension Educator in Hall County