Water – An Essential Nutrient

Water accounts for 70–75 per cent of a calf’s body weight and calves will perform best with fresh drinking water available to them from birth.

Why is water important for calves?

Water is fundamentally important to rumen development and optimal growth of young calves. It is required to support the rumen microbial population and promote good rumen development and function.

Fresh water should be provided in addition to milk or milk replacer.

  • Providing water in addition to milk replacer can increase growth by 38% and starter intake by 31%
  • Calves will drink 1 litre of water per day during the first week of life, increasing to nearly three litres by 3–4 weeks of age
  • Providing warm water (16–18˚C) during cold weather may stimulate starter intake
Hot Weather

In hot weather, particularly in temperatures above 25˚C, the calf’s intake of water will increase to maintain hydration and normal body function.

Water Quality and Cleanliness

Location of the water supply needs to be considered to avoid contamination from faeces and reduce wet bedding material due to spillage.

Clear out water sources daily of any feed or bedding.


During periods of scours, dehydration will result in reduced feed intake, feed conversion and growth.

Scouring calves will consume greater volumes of water so must be provided with continuous access to water.

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