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Algae in livestock water tanks can be toxic

David Guest Algae-filled water tank
ALGAE: Remove algae from livestock water tanks. When livestock have clean, fresh water to drink, they will better consume feed and forage and absorb nutrients more efficiently.
Beef Brief: The weather is hot, and that can cause algae to grow.

July is off to a hot and dry start, and for livestock managers, this adds chores to the to-do list to keep livestock healthy and productive.

Water is the source of life, and I often preach on the importance and the critical role it plays in animal health. When livestock have clean, fresh water to drink, they will better consume feed and forage and absorb nutrients more efficiently.

More adequate water consumption can equate to better rate of gain, increased fertility and reproductive performance, increased milk production and weaning weights, and many more benefits.

When water is tainted or not available, livestock will avoid drinking or try to find water in other areas. This can have a detrimental effect on animal health and should be a priority for managers to prevent.

There can be multiple factors that lead to water be tainted or unpleasant for livestock consumption, but one of the most common factors during the summer is the buildup of algae in water tanks, troughs or reservoirs.

Keeping algae out of the livestock drinking facilities can be a big challenge. Algae in livestock water tanks is not only a nuisance, but it also can be toxic to livestock. There are different types of algae that can grow and thrive in livestock water tanks. Warm weather, livestock saliva, sunshine, and introduction of organic matter or manure can provide perfect growing conditions for algae.

There are several different types of algae that can be found growing in livestock water tanks, but one that gets the most attention is the blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria. This type of algae can be toxic to livestock, causing symptoms of blue-green algae toxicosis.

Symptoms of blue-green algae toxicosis include muscle tremors, bloody diarrhea, seizures, excessive salivation and liver failure. Steps should be taken to maintain a clean water supply for livestock no matter what time of year it is, but it is especially important during the hot summer months.

Livestock will refuse to drink water with high population of algae, and this can lower overall animal performance and put their health in jeopardy. Some steps to take to maintain a clean water supply and reduce algae growth include:

  • Routinely drain and clean water facilities with a scrub brush.
  • Put up railings or barriers along water tanks. This will help eliminate feces and urine from entering the tank or watering area.
  • Placing water tanks in shady areas can reduce algae growth. Watering facilities in shady areas also have cooler water temperatures reducing growth.
  • Think about types of water tanks or troughs used. Rubber tanks stay cooler than concrete or steel tanks.
  • Monitor water pH. Algae prefers water pH levels around 8.0-8.5. Levels between 6.5-7.0 can help reduce algae growth.
  • Disinfect often, using unscented bleach at a rate of 2-3 ounces per 50 gallons of water.
  • Copper sulfate products can be mixed and used in larger facilities or ponds to reduce algae growth.

Algae growth in livestock watering facilities should not be overlooked or ignored. Taking time to prevent and clean watering facilities on a routine basis should be toward the top of your to-do list.

On my farm, I have set a day in my weekly schedule to drain and clean water tanks. This has also allowed me to observe my livestock’s drinking habits and amount of water consumed. Remember, if the water doesn’t look appealing for you to drink, don’t expect your livestock to drink it.

Purdin is the OSU Extension educator for AgNR in Adams County. He is also a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team that publishes the weekly Ohio BEEF Cattle letter, which can be found at beef.osu.edu.

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