Curious drinking behaviour: why does she do this?

Here we have some curious drinking behaviour. Let's analyze this according our three steps: look, think, act.

LOOK: What do you see happening here?
THINK: Why do you think this cow is doing this?
ACT: What can we do about it?

Please share your thoughts!

Movie by Frank Odberg, Ghent University

Comments (24)

Joost Straathof

LOOK: The cow is drinking nervously and will probably drink less than necessary for optimum production.

The chemical or microbiological water quality may be poor.
The drinker might be placed too high, so the cow has to drink from a difficult angle.
The cow might get an "electric shock" from the drinker.

Check taste, smell and colour of the water yourself. Send a sample to a lab for analysis. Water treatment or a switch over to municipal water could help.
Place the drinker in a lower position. Check the drinking behaviour and the water intake with a watermeter.
Check if the drinker is well earthed.

Joep Driessen

We fully agree with Joost! Thanks for your contribution!
Water is very cheap! Compared to feed...


To me looks neurological. Maybe testing for rabies would be a good idea.


Cow is bored...nervous horses will "play with water, too!"

Barry Steevens

I would check for stray voltage. Desire less than 0.05 volt A.C. RMS between water and place the front feet are standing on. If it is negative , then we are looking at a cow having fun.

annelise Hever

Check first if only one cow is doing that or if it's a herd signal. If most of the cows show strange drinking behaviour, check all what was mentioned above. If not, forget it... the cow might be playing.

Jorgen Katholm

Dear All
In Denmark we have had a long debate for 4 years about these cows
Som mentioned chronic botulism as the reason
Some has got high Insurance payment to kill a lot of the cows also talking of tail lamnes
I totally agree to theck hight of warter and also stay woltage, use a big plastic bucket and look for drinking behavior there.
My own working hypothesis is also that you se more of these cows in farms with an outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis. I think some cows in these herds have mycoplasma pass the membrane to CNS and thereby they have minor brain symptoms that will dissapear in 2-3 month
best wishes
Jorgen Katholm

Willy Leferink

Agree with Barry Stevens. Looks like stray voltage to me, Cows are very sensitive to this. There must be people in your country that can deal with this. Try to earth out the water trough to a steel truss pole.

Alexandros Kougioumtzis

At summer I have seen many cows, here in Greece, playing with water and sparying themselves. This cow doesnot seem doing this. My thoughts are that she is cleaning the surface of the waterer. Stray voltage looks possible to me , too.

Dr. Vivek Deshmukh

Observation- 1.Cow's water expulsion force indicate intact nervous system.
2. Rabies is ruled out due to absence of symptoms.
3. Seems to be related to neurological weakness of epiglottis.

Frank McClellan

In my experience I saw cows doing this when there was very cold water. They prefer water nearer to their body temperature.

Joep Driessen

Thanks for all your suggestions! Could be numerous causes for this behaviour, so all very valid! Makes a great checklist for farmers that see this kinf of behaviour as well.

Alex Nieuwland

named before, but could be Stray voltage, also they have these problems in Canada. check the following website.
Stray voltage might cause multiple problems which are hard to pinpoint, stray voltage is usually the last thing to think about!

Dr.Rami Hamad

It could be a bad habit , the video is too short for me to say much.

Miguel Angel Beltrán Santoyo

In my opinion water temperature very cold or warm and water quality.(salty, dirty)


Hi Alex, Wisconsin is in the USA :) Thanks for the link it's very interesting.

Alex Nieuwland wrote:
named before, but could be Stray voltage, also they have these problems in Canada. check the following website.
Stray voltage might cause multiple problems which are hard to pinpoint, stray voltage is usually the last thing to think about!

Jorn Erri

I have been working with problem herds during the last 4 years. I have seen hundreds of these cows and have many of videos taken. If you want I can send some to you. In my opinion the reason is neurotixins produced by several Clostridia types. The toxin makes a slight lameness in the throat. Because of the lameness the cow cannot drink in a normal way and try to sip the Water. I have had herd with many of those cows and measure the Water consumption and have seen a drop of 700 cubic meter fort 200 cows in one year. If the problem goes on for a longer period of time we will find cows with lame tails. I have Pictures of tails run over by the scraper without the cow being able to move the tail.
Just now I have a herd which used 14300 cubicmeter in 2012 for 255 cows. in 2013 13130 cubicmeter for 275 cows and in 2014 13336 cubicmeter for 325 cows. (It is the total use of Water on the farm, not only drinking Water for the cows). During the same period he lost many cows of unknown reason. The Vet was not able to make a diagnose on them, it was just bad luck. The farm uses to have several cows with more than 100000 kg lifetime yield. but now none. The Water come from an official system with controlled quality. Some farm measure the drinking Water for the cows and we find an average consumption of 60 liter per cow/day. After correct treatment it goes up to more than 100 liter per day. When the cow does not drink enough Water not enough rumen microbes are washed out of the rumen and digested by the cow. The cow and goats are the only animals who secrete Lyzozym which can open the bacteriawall so the inside material gets to the cow. Because of the digestive system of the cow she does not get the nutrition she need and different diseases can break out. EX. Mycoplasma but also other diseases.
Test for Stray Voltage if not found, (most cases) test for clostridie, antibodies in the blood and faeces for clostrie toxin. According to the types of Clostridie found, make a vaccination program for the farm to protect the cows. It may also be necessary to give some probiotic and toxinbinder. But the most important is to start a vaccination program against clostridie. The are are many theories what causes the problem with the Clostride. One is Glyphosat (Clostridier are resistent against Glyphosat. But also the habit of using Slurry on the grass and then use the grass for silage and bring the Clostridie spores to the cows again is a problem. The slurry itself is a problem because it gives the best evironment for the anaerobic bacteria (Clostridier) and makes no room for aerobic bacterier.
When I go to other countries and visit farm I always take my time to at the cows and I will always find cows with this strange drinking habit. Germany, UK, Lithuania, Holland, Sweden etc.
One should have in mind that also non pathogen Clostridie types can suddenly be pathogen and then a autovaccine could be of great value

Joep Driessen

Hi Jorn,

Thanks for your very elaborated response! I think this offers for an very interesting discussion.

I understand a group of researchers called chronical botulism 'not true' recently. Here's a link in German, if you're interested: Page 65 has a summary.

Do you have any (scientific) proof that provides another point of view? I'm interested to hear!

Jorn Erri

I know the Hannover publication and will get to you tomorrow with material from Germany about this research. Professor and Veterinarians know that this research are very doubtfull in its conclusions. It is well known that different Clostridie types makes different kind of toxins. Bach in 1921 ir was described in US. It is well known from Babys and it is documented in human. Can I send litteratur by mail to your private e-mail address I would prefer this. The problem is also wellknown in old DDR, but because of the Hannover "research" the official system says that the disease does not exsist but cows dont know and dye.
It may be correst to say that it is not only Botulism but also many other types of Clostridie are involved. To read through the Whole history of "Cronich Botulism" is like reading a histry of Crime.
There is a Group of farmers, Professors and Veterinarians WHO has made a Group WHO have meetings two times a year in Hof Idingen near Hannover I am sure you are welcome at the meeting. Next meeting is July 4th.

Carsten Houmann

Agree with Jorn Erri in all his comments.
But vaccination can and must not stand alone.
You have to start a prewention feeding program to bee in front of thise problems.
You must bouild up immunity in cows, - contol N-efficient in the rumen. Then cows will be able to handle problem with clostidie.

Jorn Erri

I fully agree with Carsten Houmann but if your cows goes on with this strange drinking habit then go for vaccination. Have the types of Clostridie found, in some cases you may have to make an auto vaccine which suits your farm. Take a look of how your are handling your slurry, never slurry on grassland for silage. It is a serius probelm in many farm but overlooked.

Joep Driessen

Hi Jorn and Carsten,

Thanks for explaining further! I'm interested in the literature, you can send it to:
Thanks again!

Frank Halden

Cow drinking behavior.
The first thing I would do is to have the water trough tested for stray voltage. If an electric fencer controller is grounded somewhere on the water system this could cause a cow to drink like this. Difficult to detect because the pulse of the fence may to too fast for most detection equipment to pick up.


Could this behaviour be a symptom of a cow with severe acidosis?
The rumen movement has shut down and she is unable to drink.
The cow is thirsty so she licks. The cow will die unless the pH is increased to alleviate this rumen condition.

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