Sheep, like other livestock, will drink water where they can find it.
Sheep can detect whether water is suitable for drinking to a certain extent and will go for cleaner water if they can.
But will they drink from running water, or does it have to be standing?
Typically, sheep prefer still water to running water, possibly because of the danger presented by fast-moving water. Although aerated and more resistant to contamination and stagnation, running water is dangerous to sheep because of their heavy wool and inability to swim well.
While appearing clean, running water sources can easily be contaminated from upstream.
Livestock are also damaging to the landscape around water sources and harmful to the aquatic ecosystem.
This is why we farmers fence off natural water sources and supply water to their animals via troughs and stock tanks.
Read on for more about sheep and their drinking habits!
How Much Water Do Sheep Need?
Like all animals, access to clean water is essential for your sheep’s good health.
Each animal will drink between 1.5 – 3 gallons of water daily, depending on what they eat and what time of year it is.
Dry foods such as grass, grains, pellets, and hay and the salts in mineral blocks make your sheep thirsty.
During the grazing season, when plants are lush and green and have a higher water content, your flock of sheep will need to drink less water.
During cold weather, non-pregnant or lactating sheep will not need much supplemental fluid water; they will get their moisture from the forage water content.
If the forage water content exceeds 80%, there is no need for fluid water access; the number is 70% for stockpiled perennial pasture.
During cool, rainy weather, your sheep may even go a couple of days without water, but this is the exception, not the norm.
Plenty of water is needed for your sheep to:
- Flush toxins
- Lubricate joints
- Clear eyes and nasal passages
- Regulate body temperature, especially in the summer
- Have wool not be dry or brittle
- Maintain muscle quality and gain weight
Pregnant ewes have higher water requirements for the development of lambs.
The increase in the water needed for a pregnant ewe depends on how many lambs she has.
Ewes in lactation may need up to five gallons of drinking water daily, or lactation might be adversely affected.
When all a sheep eats is dry feed, they will need free access to water sources to properly digest.
What’s The Best Sheep Watering System?
Water in Troughs
Emptying and cleaning water troughs regularly keeps drinking water hygienic for your sheep.
There are also trough heaters to keep the water from freezing in winter.
If you use water tanks and troughs, put them in a shady location to keep the water cool in hot weather and reduce evaporation.
Sheep will not drink warm water in hot weather, increasing the risk of dehydration.
Adding a pump to your stock tank will keep the water moving and help prevent freezing in the winter.
Fixed waterlines are costly and not flexible as to location.
It is hard to change grazing areas when the water source is fixed.
Waterlines also lead to increased traffic in the water source area and increased manure, which is hard on the land.
One advantage of buried waterlines is the cool and consistent temperature of the freshwater.
Using automatic sheep waterers will work, but they must be kept clean and free of straw, hay, manure, and bits of feed.
You will need enough waterers for your sheep to drink comfortably and freely.
Can Sheep Drink Pond Water?
Sheep can drink clean pond water if it is not stagnant or contaminated.
Adding aquatic plants and fish to your pond will help keep the water aerated and clean and help keep disease-carrying insects such as mosquitos down.
Fungus and bacteria can build up in still water and be dangerous for livestock.
A muddy pond might be contaminated with Leptospirosis and Fusobacterium and be transmitted from animal to animal via the mud or water.
Dangers to Still Water
- Still water freezes more rapidly than moving water
- Disease thrives in stagnant water
- Insects seek out still water to lay their eggs
- There is often thick mud surrounding the water, and it leads to mired sheep
- If there is no entrance point, mud can make the water dirty and undrinkable
- Pollutants become more concentrated as the water dries up
More Problems with Water And Sheep
Sheep Won’t Drink Salty Water
Excessively saline water is dangerous, as sheep refuse to drink it.
Sheep grazing on green feed can tolerate higher salinity levels in their water supply since they get more moisture from their feed.
Livestock tolerance to the salinity of water also depends on the environment.
Blue-green algae can contaminate water supplies and poison livestock.
Algae blooms in still, warm, shallow water when it is contaminated by substances that nourish plants, such as organic matter, fecal matter, and phosphorus.
Runoff from fertilized fields can lead to algae blooms.
Although they prefer clean water, very thirsty sheep may drink dirty water.
Water may be contaminated with organic matter or carcasses and lead to botulism and salmonellosis, which may be fatal.
If water contamination is suspected or productivity drops off, a detailed water analysis will help pinpoint the cause and guide water quality and possible contaminants.
It is important to monitor the concentration of calcium, magnesium, nitrate/nitrite, and sulfate ions since they may be toxic or make sheep purge.
Water may be contaminated with heavy metals, which may have toxic effects on sheep and humans who consume sheep products.
Are Sheep Afraid of Rushing Water?
Sheep are not good at swimming and will avoid it.
While not afraid of rushing water, they exhibit common sense and will not willingly go in the water to swim.
Sheep can drown if they get too tired, the current is too swift, or their wool gets soggy, and they cannot get out.
Read next: Can sheep drink Gatorade?
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