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The USGS Water Science School

Livestock water use: A chickenhouse... and the water that comes from it

Picture of a large chickenhouse in Georgia, USA.Water used to raise livestock is one of the categories of water use for which the U.S. Geological Survey compiles data. In 2000, about 1,760 million of gallons of water per day was used in the United States to supply livestock needs (For 2000, data for the top 22 states using livestock water in 1995 was compiled). You might think that livestock means only cows. It is true that water for cow herds make up a large proportion of total livestock water needs, but chickens are also considered livestock, as well as sheep, goats, and water for the care and maintenance of facilities.

Picture of a lagoon where waste from a chickenhouse is dumped.Here in north Georgia, which is one of the top locations in the world for growing chickens, chickens probably outnumber cows by 1,000 to 1. Hundreds of millions of chickens are raised in the area yearly. And, like any other animal, chickens need water. There can be tens of thousands of chickens in these houses ... and they all need to drink. Water is needed not only to supply their drinking needs, but also to clean their houses and eventually to process them into food products.

In the second picture you'll see that the chicken industry also has an effect on local water quality, as you are looking at a picture of chicken wastewater. The good news is that chicken manure from the houses makes great fertilizer on crop fields; the bad news is that runoff from the fields can lead to high nitrogen concentrations in local streams, which harms the water quality. The picture shows a lagoon where the chicken waste is washed into. Problems can occur when heavy rains occur and the lagoons overflow into local streams. Care must be taken to not let this wastewater come into contact with our own water supply.

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