Current WRP Projects: Project 33

Treatment of High-Sulfate Water used for Livestock Production Systems

  • Project Number:  33
  • PIs: 
    • Kristi M. Cammack, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Wyoming,, 307-766-6530
    • Kathy J. Austin, M.S., Senior Research Scientist, University of Wyoming,, 307-766-5180
    • Ken C. Olson, Ph.D., Associate Professor, South Dakota State University,, 605-394-2236
    • Cody L. Wright, Ph.D., Associate Professor, South Dakota State University,, 605-688-5448
  • Status:  Ongoing.
  • Period:  March 10 - Feb 12


Reliable drinking water sources that meet minimum quality standards are essential for successful livestock production. Recent surveys have shown that water sources throughout the semi-arid rangelands of the U.S. are not of sufficient quality to support optimum herd/flock health and performance. Water sources high in sulfur (S) concentrations, usually in the form of sulfate (SO42-), are problematic in many western regions. High SO42- concentrations in water sources can arise from several factors. First, water sources can be naturally high in SO42-. Second, drought conditions can cause SO42- to be concentrated within the water source. Third, conventional oil and gas production can also increase SO42- content within the water source. Many of these water sources are used for livestock production systems, especially throughout the western states. High-SO42- water has been shown to reduce performance and cause secondary health and immunity complications in exposed livestock. Additionally, high SO42- levels in drinking water are a primary cause of polioencephalomalacia (PEM) in ruminant livestock. Sulfur-induced PEM (sPEM) is a disease state in ruminant animals that can cause 25% morbidity and 25-50% mortality in affected populations, resulting in substantial economic losses to the livestock producer. Currently, there are no available treatments for affected livestock, and frequent and stringent testing of drinking water sources for levels of SO42- and other S compounds, a costly and time-consuming process, is the best prevention strategy. In addition, methods for SO42- removal from the water source are neither cost-effective nor practical. Ferrous chloride (FeCl2) is a soluble iron salt that is routinely used in water treatment plants to bind S. We hypothesize that treatment of high-SO42- water with FeCl2 will bind excess S, enabling such sources to be used for livestock production. Our objectives are to 1) determine the effectiveness of FeCl2 treatment in binding S in high-SO42- water, and 2) determine if treatment of high-SO42- water with FeCl2 prevents the reduced performance and poor health normally observed in livestock consuming high-SO42- water.

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