Evaluating the Impact of Water Quality for Finishing Beef Cattle


Source: Beef Farmers of Ontario

Executive Summary

The project will evaluate the effects of water quality on growth performance, carcass characteristic and methane production for finishing beef cattle.  Two water treatment systems will be used to improve the water quality of well water for an established beef research facility.  One of the water treatment systems will be a low cost system which utilizes ultraviolet (UV) rays to kill microorganisms in water. This system is venturi based used to remove iron and sulfates.  The second water treatment system is a state-of-the-art system that is based on reverse osmosis which claims to dramatically reduce total dissolved solids and biofilms as compared to untreated water without the use of chemicals such as chlorine.

Over two years, 196 head of cattle will be used to evaluate the effects of water treatment on growth performance (gains, feed intake, feed conversion), carcass characteristics (carcass weight, backfat deposition, muscling, lean yield, marbling, carcass grade) and beef quality including tenderness.

In addition, the project will also examine how water quality may impact the environment through the production of methane and volatile organic compounds including sulfur, volatile fatty acids, phenols, and indoles.  Odors from livestock operations are not only an environmental concern but are a threat to the viability of livestock operations in close proximity to residential housing developments.

The high purchase and feeding costs of cattle necessitates an examination of production methods that can reduce costs of production. Incorporation of water treatment systems in finishing operations may significantly improve animal health, feed intake, and feed conversion which would lower overall costs of production and increase financial returns.  Since sulfur containing compounds in manure are one of the most volatile organic compounds, effective removal of sulfates via water treatment could significantly impact odor emissions from livestock operations.  This is important as odor nuisance or obnoxious odors are considered a major complaint from the public regarding air pollution.

While we are aware that the technology has been used to improve water quality in Ontario, the technology has not been used for beef cattle production.  Furthermore, no refereed or third party publications documenting animal performance using the treated water has been conducted to date.


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