Clean Water Promotes Health and Performance

In discussions of cattle health and nutrition, we sometimes overlook the most important nutrient of all: water. ( John Maday )

In discussions of cattle health and nutrition, we sometimes overlook the most important nutrient of all: water. During the recent Academy of Veterinary Consultants (AVC) Spring Conference in Omaha, Stuart Heller, a sales manager with Neogen, reminded veterinarians that animals drink about twice what they eat, making water the biggest oral input in animal production. He also pointed out these observations about water sources in livestock operations:

  • Water is vital to all bodily functions, including regulating body temperature, carrying nutrients and more.
  • Scale build-up in water lines reduces volume.
  • Farm water often smells bad and tastes bad.
  • Water is often loaded with bacterial contamination.
  • We wouldn’t drink it – we don’t even like showering in it!
  • Animals drink it because it is their only choice.

Based on experience in poultry and swine operations, Heller says cleaning and de-scaling water lines allows for more volume and reduced contamination. Improved taste and odor, along with reduced levels of bacterial contamination result in higher water consumption and multiple health and performance benefits.


Heller cited an example of a pig nursery that was spending more than $2,400 per month on treatment and prevention. Upon further examination, managers determined water at this nursery site was contaminated with bacteria, including E. coli, and had high iron content. The water line was also partially plugged. Once the operation corrected these problems, the monthly expense for treatment and prevention dropped to $673 per month.


Heller recommends a water program that begins with sampling and analysis to establish a baseline, followed by line cleaning residual disinfection with sodium chlorite, activated with an acid-based compound to generate chlorine dioxide. Neogen provides a two-phase system, starting with Peraside, an EPA Registered Disinfectant with a peroxide/peracetic acid blend. The peroxide provides oxidative chemistry to scour the interior of water lines, while the peracetic acid dissolves scale, preventing clogged drinkers, and the combination disinfects the system.


The next step uses NeoKlor, a stabilized chlorine dioxide (ClO2) compound. The product actually contains sodium chlorite, a precursor compound to ClO2. Injection of an acid into the system activates and converts sodium chlorite to ClO2, and the gas ClO2 gas is slowly released and captured in the stabilized aqueous solution.


ClO2, he says, has three times the oxidative power of bleach, is more stable in the presence of contaminants and has longer duration of activity than bleach.


In a controlled trial in a 20-year-old swine facility, Heller says his team compared four study groups, each with 198 pigs over a six-week turn. The groups incuded:

  • Control pens (no water treatment).
  • Pens with line cleaning (Peraside) only.
  • Pens with line cleaning and disinfection with NeoKlor.
  • Pens with line cleaning, disinfection and activation of ClO2.

The team documented improvements in average daily gain with each level of treatment. Line cleaning alone provided a 6% improvement over controls, while the full treatment and activation provided a 21% advantage over the control group. Feed efficiency also improved significantly with each level of treatment.


Heller says that while swine and poultry operations have adopted these water-treatment systems, dairies also stand to benefit and represent an emerging market. Dairies using the systems have seen visibly cleaner water troughs, decreased nasal discharge and increased milk production. More research will be needed to quantify the benefits of investing in water treatment for dairies, but Heller says the dairies that have tested the systems believe better health and higher milk production more than make up for the price. “Biosecurity doesn’t cost,” he says. “It pays.”


AVC members can access the full recorded proceedings from every AVC conference, and qualify for continuing education credits. The proceedings are available on the AVC website or on mobile devices using an app developed by Kansas State University’s Beef Cattle Institute. The app is available from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Search “BCI Conference.”


The AVC’s winter 2019 Summer conference takes place in conjunction with the BRDS conference, August 7 through 10, at the Renaissance Denver Hotel.


For more from recent AVC Conferences, see these articles from

USDA Simplifying Vaccine Labels

Bugs in the Airway

Trace Minerals Can Boost Fertility