Question: How much water should I give my goats, and how often should they drink? What kind of water is suitable for them?
Many variables affect water intake, such as the amount of moisture in the grazing, the temperature, how far and fast the animals walk, pregnancy, milk production, wool cover and age. Hence there is no single, simple answer to your questions. If it is possible, the best practice is to make water available at all times.
Grazing sheep and goats do not usually drink more than once or twice a day, so try to give your small stock free access to water at least twice a day. They will drink until they are satisfied.
If livestock are to be watered by bucket or a similar container, try to ensure that it is filled regularly, at least 4 times a day if emptied by drinking. A rough guide for providing for many animals is that each one will require an average of 2 l to 5 l of water a day.
Remember that with dry food, lactating animals and hot weather you may have to provide more. Rather be on the safe side and provide more than is required, than too little.
This is not just to keep the animals comfortable, although this is important, it is also because thirsty animals may stop eating or reduce their feed intake, which will cause lower growth rates, lower pregnancies, smaller lambs or kids, and eventually lower the profitability of the farm. Be sure that there is enough space for all the animals to drink their fill in the time available, otherwise some sheep or goats may go thirsty.
Small stock is quite tolerant of a wide range in the quality of their water. The water can be quite muddy and dirty, and you may see them walk right past a trough of clean borehole water to drink at a muddy pool.
Stagnant, stinking, contaminated water must be avoided, especially if dead animals have been lying in it, as it can cause animals to get serious diseases such as botulism. Also avoid water that is green with algae, because although most algae is safe, some is extremely poisonous, especially after long spells of hot weather.
Unlike poultry and pigs, sheep and goats tend to be quite tolerant of high levels of salts and minerals in water. However, excessive amounts can be harmful and could result in diseases, poor production and even death. An example is fluorine, which can cause serious defects in the teeth and bones.
Borehole and surface water may not be safe to drink in some areas. If there is any doubt it may be necessary to consult the local vet, or have the water analysed for elements that could pose problems.
Water is a vital part of good nutrition, and it is well worth the time and effort to ensure that enough suitable water is supplied to the sheep and goats.
- This article was written by Prof. Gareth Bath and first appeared in Farming SA.