Livestock Water Requirements

The water intake of livestock varies greatly between species and between animals of the same species, depending on their environment, age, type of feed and production environment.

Water is the single most important component of any livestock enterprise. Livestock need water for blood circulation, food digestion, temperature control and production. Water intake occurs through eating and of course drinking.

As the body temperature of an animal increases, so do its water requirements due to fluid loss through sweating and/or panting in an effort to keep cool. This means that not only do animals need more water in hotter conditions but also when being driven or worked.

Lactation requires a huge amount of water to produce milk. A lactating female needs at least 50% more water than a dry animal. On average it takes 4 - 5 litres of water to produce 1 litre of milk. This does not take into account the requirements for the maintenance of the animal.

Water Quantity

When considering the quantity of water needed to supply livestock it is wise to make a very liberal allowance, above the peak needs of an animal, to allow for dry periods and infrastructure failure (e.g. busted pipe/tank). Other factors to consider are the number of animals likely to be watered on the system and the number of watering points to be used at the same time. This is important, as no matter how big your water storage is, your water distribution network (pipes and troughs) must allow sufficient flow to meet animals’ needs. If animals have to wait around half the day for the trough to fill up again, then that is time that is not spent eating.

Commonly, two thirds of a grazing animals water requirement in summer comes from drinking water, but in winter up to 90% of its requirement may come from pasture. Therefore the amount of drinking water required by an animal depends on what type of feed it is eating and the ambient temperature. Below is a list of sheep feeds and the appropriate water requirements.

  • Sappy green feed – no free water needed but still recommended.


  • Dry feed – two and a half to three times the weight of dry matter eaten;
  • Salty feeds (saltbush) – up to 14L a day for a sheep grazing a pure stand of saltbush;
  • Lucerne hay (high potassium) – 9L a day.

Normal water intakes for sheep and cattle

Animal >Daily Consumption (litres a day)

Sheep - weaners
- adult dry sheep - grass land
- salt bush
- Ewes with lambs


Cattle - weaners
- dry stock
- lactating cow - grass land
- saltbush


Note: Water consumption can vary greatly with heat, humidity, exercise, parity, diet and water quality. Allowances must also be made for wildlife and feral animals drinking from watering points.

Trials for 3 years at Minnippa Research Centre found that Bungaree type ewes consumed only 600 litres per year. However extra allowances need to be made for others factors mentioned.