The USGS Water Science School
Water Science water-use pages
Categories of Use:
National Water Use Program
Information and Data
Livestock water use
Care to guess how much water a cow drinks per day?
If you've ever flown in an airplane over a very dry location, such as the western United States, you've probably noticed that you can pick out where the rivers and streams are by looking for the green vegetation that tends to grow along the riverbanks. It is certainly true that wherever there is water, there are plants. This picture suggests that maybe livestock congregate near exposed water, too (wouldn't you if you had to stand out in a hot field all day?). Often farmers who raise cattle and other livestock construct livestock-watering ponds to accommodate the watering needs of their animals.
Water is needed to raise livestock, be it cows, chickens, horses, or rabbits. Livestock water use is water associated with livestock watering, feedlots, dairy operations, and other on-farm needs. This includes water for raising cows, chickens, horses, rabbits, fish, and pets, and also water used in the production of meats, poultry, eggs, and milk.
Livestock withdrawals for the Nation, 2005
Livestock water use is water associated with livestock watering, feedlots, dairy operations, and other on-farm needs. Livestock includes dairy cows and heifers, beef cattle and calves, sheep and lambs, goats, hogs and pigs, horses, and poultry. Other livestock water uses include cooling of facilities for the animals and animal products such as milk, dairy sanitation and wash down of facilities, animal waste-disposal systems, and incidental water losses.
During 2005, withdrawals were an estimated 2,140 Mgal/d, or 2,390 thousand acre-feet per year. (All 2005 water use information is from the report Estimated use of water in the United States in 2005.) Livestock withdrawals were less than 1 percent of total freshwater withdrawals and 1 percent of total freshwater withdrawals excluding thermoelectric power. Groundwater was the source for 60 percent of total livestock withdrawals. Estimated total livestock withdrawals for 2005 were 8 percent less than in 2000.
Livestock withdrawals, by State, 2005
Texas, California, Oklahoma, and North Carolina each used more than 125 Mgal/d for livestock and accounted for 35 percent of total livestock withdrawals in 2005. Texas, North Carolina, Nebraska, California, Iowa, and Kansas each used more than 80 Mgal/d of groundwater for livestock and accounted for 47 percent of groundwater withdrawals for this use. California, Oklahoma, and Texas each used more than 95 Mgal/d of surface water for livestock and accounted for 37 percent of surface-water withdrawals for this use.
The states that used the most water in 2005 for livestock needs (for those states that reported livestock water use) were Texas, California, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska.
Data table: Livestock withdrawals by state, 2005 (PDF)
Livestock water use, 2000
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