High quality drinking water is indispensable for livestock to express their genetic potential for production. Its availability determines critical bodily functions besides hydration, including promotion of dry matter intake, maintaining osmotic balance, excretion of waste products, and cooling the organism during hot weather among other. Water however can also be a carrier of other elements that are not required and can be even toxic to the animal.
There have been countless research experiments that explored nutrient excesses, deficiencies, and toxicities that can be triggered by inadequate water quality. One typical case has been water with an excess of sulfur which can lead to polioencephalomalacia in calves, diarrhea, impaired growth and reproduction, and other non-specific health issues. Most of these issues usually occur when cattle are offered well water or drink from ponds in areas that are rich in sulfur.
Feeding too much sulfur can interfere with the absorption of copper and selenium
About 0.15% of body weight of cattle is sulfur. It is found in methionine, cysteine, cystine, homocysteine, and taurine; in chondroitin sulfate of cartilage; and in the B-vitamins thiamin and biotin. Methionine, thiamin, and biotin cannot be synthesized in cattle tissues, so they must be supplied in the diet or synthesized by ruminal microbes. The sulfur content of most feed sources reflects the sulfur amino acid content of the proteins in the feed.