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Sunday, April 19, 2015


Many factors affect livestock performance and health. On occasion, water quality problems arise when specific compounds in water are found in high enough concentrations to affect cattle health. Cattle may not show clinical signs of illness, but producers may face economic losses due to poor growth, lactation and reproduction in their herds.

High concentrations of sulphates (SO4) are common in groundwater on the prairies, but can also be found in surface sources such as lakes, streams and sloughs. The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) guidelines for maximum S04 concentration for livestock is 1000 mg/l or ppm.

In the spring of 2007, Saskatchewan Watershed Authority (SWA) began an assessment of water quality along the chain of lakes immediately downstream of Fishing Lake. SWA found that, by the end of August, sulphate concentration in Fishing Lake and Hazel Lakes exceeded the recommended rate of 1000 mg/l. In periods of high water levels, Fishing Lake drains eastward through a series of lakes - Hazel, Stoney, Whitesand, Dog and Newburn - and eventually to the Whitesand River. At Stoney Lake, it was similar to the recommended rate, while concentrations in the downstream lakes were below the recommended rate. Streambed channels between Fishing and Hazel Lakes and Hazel and Stoney Lakes also exceeded the sulphate recommendations based on inflow concentrations.

High sulphates can lead to trace mineral (Cu, Zn, Fe and /or Mn) deficiencies, as well as thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency (also known as Nutritional Polio). Symptoms may include poor hair coat, reduced growth rate, weight loss, reduced fertility, low conception and ovulation rates in cows, and reduced semen quality in bulls. The amount of sulphate in a cattle diet is not only determined by the water source, but by feed and environmental conditions. For example, alfalfa is a common feed with relatively high sulphur content. While it is not a concern by itself, it can contribute to total dietary sulphur content.

Ideally, if SO4 levels in your water are above 1000 ppm, finding a higher quality source of water for your cattle is the best solution. However, this may not always be a long-term solution. Therefore, high sulphate levels in your livestock water must be compensated for by providing well-balanced rations, including adequate trace minerals. It is important to ensure that the animals' intake of mineral is two to three ounces per head per day. The ideal situation is to mix the mineral with feed (for example, silage) and feed as a total mixed ration. However, if you are feeding free choice, the intake must be monitored. Animals may not go after blocks or tubs of mineral with additional salt if there is already high sodium levels present in their drinking water.

If you require more detailed information on sulphates and water quality for livestock, please contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377, or your local Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food (SAF) Regional Office. You can also visit SAF's website at, or the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) Water Quality and Cattle document at


For more information, contact:

Jenna Robertson
Agriculture and Food
Phone: 306-787-2359

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