It's just not grass that makes beef, it takes water to process food during digestion. Water is the most important nutrient and is often overlooked. Water shortage seriously affects the productivity of livestock. A cow eats about 12 kg. of forage a day ( measured as dry material ) and requires 40 to 60 litres of water to digest that forage. Water quantity is one factor affecting livestock performance; water quality is also an important consideration. Livestock prefer to drink clean water. Cattle that drink clean water spend more time grazing and ingest more forage. Cattle gain more weight when clean water is available to them, compared to watering directly from a pond or dugout. Research suggests water taste determines how much water cattle will drink and how long they will spend drinking.
When livestock have unrestricted access to surface water, they contaminate the supply about 25% of the time. Given a choice, cattle avoid water fouled by manure, and animal manure encourages algae growth.
Research suggests that choice can be provided to cattle without fencing by piping or pumping water from resources to troughs. In trials, livestock overwhelmingly select troughs over surface water supply, even though no fences were present to restrict access. Often cattle will even walk further to a trough than drink from a stream. Some of this is due to the difficulty of wading through mud on the edge of a dugout or negotiating steep streambanks. Because off-site water changes livestock distribution, it reduces the risk of water contamination and captures nutrients for better plant growth in pastures. Changing livestock distribution will improve the vegetation in the riparian area. It also helps extend the life of constructed dugouts and ponds, which in turn reduces cleaning and re-excavation costs.