Source: National Farm Animal Care Council, Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle Section 2.2

Cattle need access to water of adequate quality and quantity to fulfill their physiological needs. Water availability and quality are extremely important for cattle health and productivity. Beef cattle will drink between 26-66L (5-14gal) per day (13). Water quality and palatability affect water consumption. Cattle may limit their water intake to the point of dehydration if the quality of drinking water is compromised (14).

Snow is used as a water source in some extensive western Canadian beef operations. There is scientific evidence that cattle can maintain body condition using loose snow for water under certain specific conditions (15). These conditions can be highly variable, and can result in risks to cattle welfare if they are not carefully monitored. These variables include snow conditions and quality, feed quality, cattle body condition and weather conditions.

It is extremely important to ensure there is a sufficient supply of loose, clean snow (15,16). Further, cattle with higher energy requirements (such as growing, lactating or in poor condition) risk losing excess energy when accessing and melting snow. It can take inexperienced cattle several days to learn to consume snow as a primary water source so they should be monitored during this acclimation period (17). Using snow as a sole winter water source is not appropriate in all geographic areas, even within the same province. Contact your local or regional beef cattle specialist or your veterinarian for advice (SeeAppendix G).


Ensure that cattle have access to palatable water of adequate quality and quantity to fulfill their physiological needs. Monitor water sources, feeding habits, behaviour, performance and health on an ongoing basis and be prepared to adjust the watering program accordingly.

Snow may only be used as a sole winter water source providing it is of sufficient quantity and quality to meet the animals’ physiological requirements.

Snow must not be used as a sole water source for the following cattle:

  • lactating, or
  • newly-weaned, or
  • that have a body condition score of less than 2.5 out of 5, or
  • that don’t have access to optimal feed resources.

Only adequate quantities of clean, loose snow may serve as the sole water source. Monitor snow conditions on an ongoing basis.

Have a back-up water source in the event of insufficient loose snow or an interruption in water supply.


  1. ensure that water sources are easy for cattle to locate and access
  2. manage cattle and water sources to avoid competition that would limit access to water
  3. check automated water sources daily to ensure they are dispensing properly
  4. test water quality in the event of problems such as poor performance, reluctance to drink, or reduced feed consumption
  5. if utilizing natural water sources, provide water in troughs or bowls wherever possible to ensure cleanliness of water supply and safe animal access
  6. be aware of the signs of stray (tingle) voltage around water sources, such as reluctance to drink or reduced feed consumption
  7. if using a frozen-over natural water source in winter, provide an area of open water and restrict cattle from areas of thin ice.


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