Cows eat snow instead of drinking water

Producer Question from 2012

Q.  Could my cows eat snow instead of drinking water in the winter? (Aug 1, 2012)

A.  Young and Degen, in studies conducted in Canada, indicated that adult cattle, sheep and horses are able to use snow as their primary source of water.

Young and Degen stated that the heat produced from feeding and normal body metabolism is apparently more than adequate to melt the ingested snow and bring it to body temperature. There were no metabolic differences observed between animals given snow or water, and there is apparently no additional metabolic energy required for cattle wintered in this manner.

There is some risk if there is not enough snow to meet the animal's needs. When cows are lactating, their water needs increase.

The Canadians concluded that snow provided producers with an additional option as a water source for livestock during the Alberta winter.

For more information, please see these Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development articles.

Dr. Rick Rasby, Extension Beef Specialist
University of Nebraska