Thumb H2O Project: Part 2, Water Treatment Options
Further water testing and/or treatment should be considered if the above named constituents are greater than certain acceptable levels (see Table 1). At higher levels the constituents may negatively affect animal health and/or milk production, interfere with the germicidal activity of cleansers and sanitizers (e.g., chlorine), and cause problems with water system components (e.g., pipes and pumps). In fact, some water quality problems like excess iron can lead to such poor animal performance (e.g., health problems, reduced milk production) that it can be a “business-breaker” (2).
High levels of some constituents (e.g., iron, nitrate-nitrogen) also can endanger human health if people are drinking from that water source (1). If levels of these constituents reach “retest levels”, further testing is warranted and one should even consider sending multiple samples to multiple certified laboratories to confirm/deny whether these constituents are truly problematic. If on further testing a constituent reaches or exceeds “actionable levels” dairy producers should seek help regarding water treatment options for their system’s drinking water.
Water Treatment Options
Other water treatment options include distillation (too costly), reverse osmosis (RO), ion exchange resin system (traditional water softener employing salt), oxidation + filtration via aeration (often called an “iron curtain”), and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) injection systems (2).
Removal of excess TDS and excess sulfate + chlorine usually employs traditional water softeners or RO systems. Reverse osmosis systems remove 80 to 90% of these constituents depending on their design. Conventional water softeners are effective, but not designed to handle large volumes of water and require an acceptable place to dispose of the brine flush water needed to recharge the system.
Designing a Water Treatment System
Oxidation systems are mainly used to remove excess iron from cattle drinking water. The “iron curtain” system employs aeration to convert the iron to a precipitate ferric (Fe+3) form, which is then subsequently filtered from the water.
The hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) system involves the Fenton Reaction which converts iron from Fe+2 (soluble in water) to Fe+3 (insoluble in water) that can then be filtered out the Fe+3 as a precipitant. This system injects H2O2 into the drinking water (8 oz of 35% H2O2 per 1,000 gal of water) and is quite cost-effective. A suitable injection pump costs around $500 and the cost of 15 gal of 35% H2O2 solution is about $100 (enough to treat ~240,000 gal of water).
When working with water treatment vendors it is absolutely essential they understand the following items about your farm’s situation (2)
We recommend that you routinely send samples of your cow’s drinking water to a certified laboratory on a quarterly basis and maintain a historical record of those analyses. If your water test results suggest that you may need to consult a professional water treatment company to rectify a problem, an appropriate closing message on water treatment methods would be, “Show me the science and the proof of improved cow health and performance before I show you any payment.” (1)
Part 3 will be the final installment in this series. That article will address the important issue of water delivery. That article will detail the results of the Thumb H2O Project’s measurement of whether the milking cow facilities on operating dairy farms met guidelines insofar as number of waterers, space, location, and cleanliness are concerned.
1. Beede, D.K. 2004. Water Intake and Supply for Dairy Cattle. Michigan Dairy Review, Vol. 9, No. 3; July, 2004.
2. Beede, D. K. 2009. Solving Bad Water Problems for Thirsty Cows. Proc. Western Dairy Management Conf., Reno, NV (https://www.msu.edu/~beede/dairycattlewaterandnutrition.pdf).
3. Looper, M.L. and D.N. Waldner. 2007. Water for Dairy Cattle. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, ANSI-4275.
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