What are the Daily Water Intake Requirements for your Livestock?

Managing the daily water intake of your livestock is important. Here's some tips on how to keep your livestock healthy.

Remember, there are many nutrients livestock animals need, but the most important is water. Today we’re going to look at the daily water intake requirements for your livestock.

Water is so important that animals in the wild make it a priority to find a water source in order to survive. The amount of water an animal drinks will greatly affect its overall health and wellbeing. Most animals are made up of 60%-70% water and require access to large volumes of safe drinking water every day. It is crucial to know the importance of daily water intake, how to recognize the signs of dehydration, and have a plan for the winter season.

Importance of Water

Water has a major impact of any animal’s life because it has many responsibilities as a nutrient. It hydrates, aids in digestion, regulates body temperature, helps spread hormones and nutrients throughout the body, and helps with eliminating waste. Daily access to clean water is required to keep animals at peak performance and health, with symptoms of dehydration showing almost immediately. Water intake is so important that most livestock animals can only last days without it, making it the biggest priority for survival. Having a clean source of water is the most important thing for any farm.

Cattle drinking from an automatic waterer.

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration in any animal is a bad sign and may indicate more serious conditions. Dehydrated horses and cattle can develop colic, heart failure, and kidney failure. Pigs and other swine show symptoms within one to two days. Chickens, however, will display discomfort from lack of water almost immediately. Knowing the signs of dehydration can prevent further health issues from arising, which can become costly and fatal. Some signs may not be obvious, which is why it is important to recognize any abnormal behavior as dehydration. If an animal is displaying serious heart issues, colic, or severe lameness, call a vet immediately and keep the animal under supervision.

Here are the most common signs of dehydration:

Horses and Cattle

  • Loose skin (pinch test)
  • Sunken in eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Eye mucous membranes forming
  • Depression or Lethargy


  • Lack of appetite
  • Inability to drink
  • Constipation
  • Nervous pacing
  • Apparent blindness

Birds (fowl)

  • Wrinkled skin around the eyes
  • Excessive wing flapping
  • Outstretched wings
  • Diarrhea
  • Heavy panting and labored breathing

Preventing Dehydration

Preventing dehydration starts at the water source itself. All animals need clean, fresh water without limitations, especially during excessively hot or cold temperatures. One method of preventing dehydration is to purchase a water consumption meter to track daily water consumption. Having a record of how much each animal drinks could show signs of low drinking levels before physical symptoms start to arise. Adding electrolytes to the water, especially during the winter, can help retain hydration. Each species of animal requires a different amount of water a day, from drinking as little as half a liter to needing over 60 gallons of water a day. Llamas do not need as much water as other mammals, while dairy cows can consume over 25 gallons in a single day. A veterinarian can determine how much an animal needs through an exam and blood tests and create a custom plan to ensure long-term health.

Water intake requirements, by animal.

Amount per day
Horses 5 – 10 gallons
Cattle 5 – 25 (or 1 gal per 100 lbs.)
Sheep ½ – 5 gallons
Chickens ½ – 1 liter 
Pigs ½ – 1 ½ gallons
Llamas  2-3 gallons

Winter Preparation

While livestock generally need more water in the summer, it is still a vital staple to their dietary needs. It is important to have a plan for the colder months to prevent water sources from freezing completely. Some animals will also refuse water that is too cold. A high quality water bucket heater will prevent individual buckets of water from freezing or being too cold to drink. If a farm has an automatic water system installed, it should have the necessary precautions to prevent the system from freezing. Here’s a checklist to help you get your waterer ready for winter. 

Horse standing behind a wooden fence


Water is the most essential part of any diet, the life-source for nearly every creature on the planet. Dehydration can cause several issues, leading to more serious medical conditions and even death. A healthy farm animal will exhibit physical signs of dehydration, which can be spotted early on. Implementing a watering schedule can help prevent dehydration. While the winter months may be challenging, there are ways to prepare for the freezing temperatures. Investing in the proper equipment, understanding each animal’s water intake requirements, and having a backup plan are essential for a happy, healthy farm.