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Past data from our laboratory showed water sulfate levels of 3,000 ppm reduced performance and health of growing steers during the summer. This experiment, conducted at the South Dakota State University Cottonwood Research Station, evaluated the effects of high sulfate water on cow and calf performance, milk production, and cow reproduction. Ninety-six crossbred, lactating cows (ages 2-13; average calving date of May 1) and their calves were assigned, after stratifying by age, weight, and previous winter management, to one of six pastures (16 cows/pasture) from June 3 to August 26, 2003. Pastures were randomly assigned to one of two water sulfate levels (three pastures/level). Treatments were low sulfate water (LS; average 388 ± 17 ppm sulfates) or high sulfate water (HS; average 2,608 ± 408 ppm sulfates). The HS water was created by adding sodium sulfate to the LS water. Cow 12-hour milk production was estimated by the weigh-suckle-weigh method at the initiation of the trial and again on July 2 and July 29. Initial milk production estimates were used to adjust the July 2 and July 29 estimates, which represented an average of 64 and 91 days into lactation, respectively. Cows on LS gained 15 lb and cows on HS lost 36 lb during the experiment (P = 0.04). Cows on HS tended to loose more (P = 0.10) body condition than LS (-0.27 and -0.48 for LS and HS, respectively). Twelve-hour milk production did not differ on July 2 (P = 0.33; 10.6 and 9.5 lb for LS and HS, respectively) or July 29 (P = 0.48; 11.9 and 11.0 lb for LS and HS, respectively). Calf ADG did not differ (P = 0.71) between treatments. Pregnancy rates (55-d breeding season) were 98% and 94% for the LS and HS treatments, respectively (P = 0.36). Sulfate levels averaging 2,608 ppm in the drinking water of cow-calf pairs during the summer increased cow weight loss and condition loss but did not reduce calf performance or reproduction compared to sulfate levels averaging 388 ppm.

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