A new research study at the University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence at Clavet will look at the impact of various levels of sulphates in livestock water.

Associate Professor, Dr. Greg Penner is leading the project that will look at water sulfate concentrations, from zero up to 3000 parts per million, in water that is destined for livestock consumption.

He says they will be working with thirty-two heifers with eight animals receiving each of the different water treatments over an eighty-four-day span.

“Those different water qualities are delivered individually to different cattle. So, we can measure water intake, we can measure the impact of that water sulfate on feed intake, and then we can measure the impact of that water sulfate on body weight change and trace mineral status in the body.”

According to Leah Clark, a livestock and feed extension specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, there is anecdotal evidence regarding water quality, but right now, there isn’t any science to support those recommendations.

Dr. Penner says, unfortunately, some of the water we have in the Province, and across the Prairies has high concentrations of dissolved minerals like sodium sulfate.

Colby Elford, is another livestock and feed extension specialist with the ministry and says “In some cases, cattle can survive drinking poor quality water, but they won’t necessarily thrive.”

When cattle drink water with high levels of sulphates, those sulphates bind trace minerals in the animals’ rumens, which mean their bodies can’t absorb the minerals.

Dr. Penner notes high concentrations of sodium sulfate can pose some pretty severe health impacts for cattle including a Vitamin B deficiency.

“We see some degradation of brain tissue so that can lead to blindness, staggers and if severe ultimately death. So, it can basically induce polio-like condition.”

Finding out the impact of sulphates at various levels in the water is important.

In the summer of 2017, 200 cattle died at the Shamrock Pasture in Saskatchewan as a result of poor quality water which showed extremely high levels of sulphates.

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