Beware of algae in water tanks this summer

By Richard Purdin, Ohio State University Extension ANR/CD Educator, Adams County

July got off to a hot and dry start for much of Ohio and for livestock managers this brings on added chores on 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 always drink, they will better consume feed and forage and absorb it nutrients more efficiently. 

More adequate water consumptions 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 not available or tainted in any way, livestock will avoid drinking or try to find water in other areas. This can have a detrimental effect on animal health and should be priority for managers to prevent. There can be multiple factors that lead to water being tainted or unpleasant for livestock consumption but one of the most common factors during the summer is the build up of algae growth 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 just a nuisance but it can also 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 a perfect growing condition for algae. There are several different types of algae that can be found growing in livestock water tanks but one that get 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 railing or barriers along water tanks, this will help eliminated 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 to 8.5, maintain water pH. levels between 6.5 and 7.0 can help reduce algae growth.
  • Disinfect often using regular home grade unscented bleach at a rate of 2 to 3 ounces per 50 gallons of water can be used and safe for livestock.
  • Copper sulfate products can be mixed and used in larger facilities or ponds to reduce algae growth.

In summary algae growth in livestock watering facilities should not be overlooks or ignored. Taking time to prevent and clean watering facilities on a routine basis should be toward the top 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, grab the brush and happy cleaning!

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