Effect of drinking water temperature on performance of dairy animals

Neelam Purohit, Indu Devi, Ankita Bhosale and Navnath Khaire

ICAR – National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal

Water is a crucial nutrient for the optimal health and performance of livestock. Milk, which contains 85% water, requires 2.5 liters of water for every liter of milk produced. The water status in feed and body reserves significantly affects growth, reproduction, adaptive potential, and feed consumption. In the realm of dairy farming, every aspect of animal care and management plays a pivotal role in ensuring optimal health, productivity, and welfare. One often-overlooked yet crucial factor is the temperature of drinking water provided to dairy animals. The temperature of water consumed by these animals can have a significant impact on various aspects of their well-being, ranging from their ability to regulate body temperature to their digestive health and overall performance.

Understanding the influence of water temperature on dairy animals is not only important for their comfort but also for maximizing their productivity. In this discussion, we delve into the effects of water temperature on dairy animals, exploring how it can influence their behavior, physiological processes, and ultimately, their contributions to the dairy farm ecosystem. By examining the intricate relationship between water temperature and dairy animal welfare, we gain insights into practical strategies that dairy farmers can employ to optimize water management practices, promote animal health, and enhance overall farm efficiency. Water is a critical nutrient essential for the optimal health and performance of livestock, particularly dairy animals, which primarily satisfy their water requirements through drinking. Although some water is obtained from feed, it constitutes a smaller portion of their overall water needs compared to drinking water intake (DWI). Various factors influence DWI, including body size, milk yield (MY), dry matter intake (DMI), dry matter content of the total mixed ration (TMR), drinking water temperature and quality, as well as environmental factors such as temperature and relative humidity.

Urbanization and the excessive use of water for agriculture and industry have led to a decline in accessible water sources globally, potentially leading to water scarcity in the future. Currently, the livestock sector accounts for approximately 30% of the total agricultural water demand. Precise estimation of water usage in livestock production can enhance livestock water productivity, anticipate peak daily water usage under different management and environmental conditions, and contribute to food and water security for humans. Recent studies, such as the empirical models are predicting DWI in Holstein cows using meta-analysis, highlight efforts to better understand and manage water usage in the livestock industry.

Throughout both winter and summer seasons, drinking water plays a crucial role in thermoregulation. It is an essential medium for transmitting nutrients, facilitating excretion, supporting metabolism, and regulating body temperature, making it vital for all living organisms. Water is particularly crucial for dairy animals, constituting a significant portion of their body composition and serving various functions such as a solvent, buffer, lubricant, transport medium, hydrolyzing agent, thermoregulator, and gas exchanger. The quantity of water consumed impacts growth, milk production, reproduction, thermoregulation, and feed intake in animals. Factors like breed, physiological status, activity level, environment, and management practices influence the total body water content in adult dairy bovines, which ranges from 56% to 81% of their body weight. Intracellularly, about 66.66% of water is found, while the remaining 33.33% is distributed in extracellular spaces, including around cells, connective tissues, blood, and the digestive tract.

Water intake also significantly affects milk yield, with a general requirement of 3 to 5 liters of water per liter of milk produced above maintenance dry matter needs. Lactating animals have a higher water demand per unit body mass compared to other land mammals due to the substantial water secretion through milk. In winter, when ambient temperatures drop below the lower critical threshold, the temperature of drinking water decreases, necessitating additional energy to warm it up to body temperature. Very cold water can reduce palatability and overall water consumption. Conversely, during summer, water temperatures rise along with ambient temperatures, leading to intermittent water intake and continuous water loss, resulting in gradual dehydration. Prolonged dehydration leads to depletion of water and essential electrolytes, manifesting in reduced weight gain, milk production, hemoconcentration, lower respiratory rate, diminished jaw movements, and impaired rumination.

Despite the importance of water temperature in winter and summer seasons for buffaloes in sub-tropical climates, there is limited information available on their ideal water temperature requirements. Therefore, this study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of different drinking water temperatures as a crucial management practice during winter and summer for buffaloes.

Requirement of water in body:

  • Transport and Metabolism of Nutrients:

Water plays a crucial role in transporting nutrients throughout the body, aiding in the absorption of nutrients from the digestive system into the bloodstream. It also facilitates the transport of essential molecules like glucose, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to cells for metabolism and energy production.

  • Digestion:

Water is essential for the proper functioning of the digestive system. It helps in the breakdown of food particles, facilitates enzymatic reactions involved in digestion, and supports the movement of food along the digestive tract. Adequate water intake ensures smooth digestion and prevents issues like constipation.

  • Milk Composition:

Water is a major component of milk. It forms the base of milk and carries various nutrients, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, to provide essential nourishment to infants and young animals.

  • Maintenance of Reproductive Function:

Water is vital for maintaining reproductive health and function in animals. It supports the production of reproductive hormones, aids in the development and maturation of reproductive organs, and ensures optimal conditions for fertilization and gestation.

  • Elimination of Waste Material:

Water is involved in the elimination of waste products from the body, primarily through urine and sweat. It helps in flushing out toxins, metabolic by-products, and excess salts, maintaining overall health and preventing toxin buildup.

  • Elimination of Excess Heat:

Water plays a crucial role in regulating body temperature. Through processes like sweating and evaporation, water helps dissipate excess heat generated during metabolism and physical activity, preventing overheating and heat-related illnesses.

  • Fluid and Ion Balance in the Body:

Water maintains a delicate balance of fluids and electrolytes (ions) in the body. It helps regulate osmotic pressure, electrolyte concentrations, and pH levels, ensuring proper cell function, nerve transmission, and muscle contractions.

  • Developing Fetus:

Water is essential for supporting fetal development during pregnancy. It provides a medium for nutrient transport to the developing fetus, maintains amniotic fluid levels for protection and cushioning, and supports overall growth and development.

Water resources for cattle and buffaloes:

Water resource refers to the available water supply in form of following ways :

  • Metabolic water pertains to the water produced during metabolic processes in living organisms.
  • Water present in feeds denotes the moisture content found within the feed materials.
  • Drinking water or free water signifies the water specifically consumed by animals for hydration, separate from water contained in feed.

Water consumption depends on the following factors:

  • Environmental conditions: Temperature, humidity, and overall climate influence the amount of water animals need to maintain their body temperature and stay hydrated.
  • Physiological state: Factors such as age, weight, reproductive status, and health condition affect an animal’s water requirements. For example, lactating animals typically require more water due to milk production.
  • Feed composition: The moisture content and type of feed animals consume can impact their water intake. Dry feeds require animals to drink more water compared to moist or wet feeds.    
  • Activity level: Active animals or those undergoing strenuous activities like working animals or those in training may require more water to compensate for water loss through sweat and respiration.
  • Species differences: Different species of livestock have varying water needs based on their physiological characteristics and natural habitat.
  • Water quality: The quality of the available drinking water, including factors like cleanliness, temperature, and presence of contaminants, can affect water consumption in animals.
  • Drinking water temperature:  The temperature of drinking water can have varying effects on different animals’ performance depending on several factors such as species, age, health status, and environmental conditions.

Effect of drinking water temperature on different parameters:

1. Effect of drinking water temperature on water intake :

One study discovered that as the temperature of drinking water increased from a cool 17 degrees Celsius to a comfortable 35.0 degrees Celsius, cows significantly boosted their water intake from 22.8 litres to a satisfying 67.0 litres per day. Building upon this exploration, another group of researchers, Beck et al. (2000), compared the impact of different water temperatures on cows’ milk production and composition. They found that varying water temperatures, ranging from 17°C to 24°C for heated water and 3°C for cold water, did not significantly affect milk yield. However, cows consuming fresh water displayed an increase in butyric fat production, highlighting a subtle yet noteworthy impact of water quality on milk composition.

Further enhancing our understanding, Osborne and colleagues (2002) delved into the seasonal water consumption habits of Holstein Friesian and Jersey cows. Their comprehensive investigation revealed a consistent preference among both breeds for warm water (30-33°C) over cooler ambient water (7-15°C) throughout various seasons, including spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

In essence, these studies collectively shed light on the intricate relationship between water temperature, consumption patterns, and its consequential effects on milk production and composition among dairy cows.

2.Effect of drinking water temperature on food consumption:

The effect of water temperature on food consumption can be significant in animals. Here are some important observations:

Effects of cold water: Some research has found that when animals are given cold water, they consume more food. The reason for this is that consuming cold water can increase the animals’ appetite and their energy level.

During summer: In summer, animals’ food consumption may decrease. This is associated with maximum levels of heat, as animals have a greater preference for keeping their bodies cool.

Species differences: Animals of different species may prefer different temperatures.

Management concepts: Providing the right water availability, quality, and temperature can motivate animals to eat more.

Through a scientific exploration, researchers examined how environmental temperature affects animals’ behavior and nutritional needs. In summer, animals tended to consume less dry matter, as evidenced by lower percentages of food consumed in months with higher ambient temperatures. Water temperature has a real impact on dairy cows, with cows fed cold water tending to consume more dry matter while those fed warm water tend to consume less dry matter. Collectively, these discoveries reveal the complex relationship between environmental temperature and animals’ foraging behaviors, highlighting the importance of understanding this activity for optimal animal management.

3. Effect of drinking water temperature on milk production and its composition:

Researchers conducted a search to know the effect of temperature of drinking water in animals. During this discovery, temperature was found to play an important role in the composition and production of milk. Cold temperatures reduce milk production, especially in the weaning phase. The yield of milk changes due to the effect of temperature, which makes a difference in its composition and nutrition. Similarly, the effect of cold exposure was also noted in the investigation of mastitis. This type of process results in decreased blood flow in mastitis, which changes the composition of milk. These findings illustrate that water temperature has a major impact on milk composition and production, which can lead to quality and nutritional issues.

4. Effect of physiological parameters on the effect of drinking water temperature:

When lactating Holstein cows had to move to colder climates. While struggling to cool in those ambient temperatures, their respiratory rate dropped, while their heart rate increased to 0°C. Additionally, their rectal temperature also showed an increase as the environmental temperature decreased. Additionally, when ruminants were exposed to winter, their rumination activity, reticulorumen motility, and digestion rate increased. In addition, the internal blood volume of the reticulorumen also decreased. This amazing study tells us how natural changes affect animals’ physiological processes as well. It is really surprising how weather and temperature can change every part of life.


Water temperature is a critical factor influencing dairy animal performance, with both cold and warm extremes posing challenges to productivity and welfare. By understanding the effects of water temperature and implementing appropriate management strategies, dairy farmers can optimize animal performance, enhance milk production, and promote overall herd health and profitability. Continued research and industry collaboration are essential to further explore this important aspect of dairy management and ensure sustainable practices for the future. By understanding the effects of water temperature and implementing appropriate management strategies, such as monitoring and adjusting water temperature regularly, providing access to cool water sources, ensuring sufficient water availability, and investing in insulated water delivery systems, dairy farmers can effectively mitigate the negative impacts and promote better performance outcomes.

Enhancing milk production, supporting thermoregulation, and minimizing stress-related impacts are key objectives that can be achieved through proper water temperature management. Moreover, maintaining optimal water temperature contributes to overall herd health and profitability, which are crucial considerations for sustainable dairy farming practices. Continued research and collaboration within the industry are essential to further explore this important aspect of dairy management and develop innovative solutions to optimize water temperature conditions for dairy animals. By addressing water temperature challenges proactively, dairy farmers can ensure the long-term success and sustainability of their operations while prioritizing animal welfare and performance.

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