NDSU Livestock Water Quality Program receives Search for Excellence award

North Dakota State University Extension
NDSU Extension ANR Agent Rachel Wald discusses livestock water quality and demonstrates water screening to producers during a pasture walk in McHenry County.

The North Dakota State University Extension Livestock Water Quality Program received the national Search for Excellence award in the Livestock Production category from the National Association of County Agriculture Agents. The program was recognized at a ceremony held July 19 at the NACAA Annual Meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Search for Excellence in Livestock Production award recognizes an outstanding extension educational program in livestock production.

“The Livestock Water Quality Program was developed to raise awareness of the impacts of water quality on livestock health and performance, increase the number of producers screening and testing livestock water sources, resulting in reduced livestock losses due to toxic water condition and the development of alternative livestock water sources,” says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist and a leader of the program.

The program team created an on-farm monitoring program involving 38 Extension agents who sampled water sources in 39 counties for total dissolved solids and sulfates. Extension agents screened 1,841 livestock water samples from 1,481 locations in 2020 and 2021.

TDS screenings identified 136 sources that may contribute to poor livestock performance,146 sources with the potential to negatively impact livestock health, and 20 with deadly TDS levels. Sulfate screenings (2021 only) identified 329 sources that may be toxic to livestock.

The results of screening resulted in management changes at 24% of the locations with water quality concerns in 2020 and 65% of the locations in 2021. Management changes included the additional monitoring of water sources, livestock being excluded or moved, water hauling and ranchers evaluating alternative water options.

“The screenings saved approximately 40,000 head of livestock and had the potential to increase health and performance of an additional 34,000 head,” Meehan said.

Follow-up surveys indicated 50% of participants intended to monitor water quality and/or install water developments and 28 participants had installed a livestock water development.

NDSU Extension used the data collected through this program to demonstrate drought impacts to livestock water availability and quality in 2021 to state and federal agencies, resulting in approximately $7 million allocated to livestock water improvement projects.

“The success of this program is a result of a coordinated effort by NDSU Extension to provide research-based information to ranchers to help them make informed decisions impacting the health and performance of their livestock,” says Lynette Flage, associate director for NDSU Extension. “Winning the Search for Excellent Award is a testament to efforts of those involved in the program to support the livestock producers in the communities they serve.”