I'm looking for a ballpark number. Obviously fodder can include more than just one crop (e.g., barley/corn or hay/straw), and that's why I am having trouble finding a figure.

Aside, I found that an average lactating dairy cow eats about 50 lbs (source) of fodder per day.

  • 1
    I think this is a difficult one to answer as it depends a lot on what type of fodder is used. Also, a lot of fodder is waste from another crop (e.g. straw) - what proportion of the water used to grow that would you allocate to the fodder, rather than the primary crop?
    – Nick C
    Jan 3, 2019 at 15:43
  • We definitely need more information: What zone are you in? Where do you live on this planet? What kind of soil do you have? Do you own a well or are you on city water? Have you ever grown plants of any kind?
    – stormy
    Jan 7, 2019 at 2:24
  • Let's say the Midwest. So I'm asking for the majority, a rough number. If straw is the primary composition, then some small percentage of that water. It does not have to be exact, as it's somewhat subjective choosing how much percent. ...Just some reasonable calculation...
    – adamaero
    Jan 8, 2019 at 18:27

1 Answer 1


1,400 gallons per day (including rainwater)

According to "The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop products" (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2011), for the period from 1996 to 2005 the global average water usage for fodder crops was 253 cubic meters per ton (or 253 L per kg).

Your original source gives a range of 18 to 25 kg/day for fodder consumed by a lactating cow. Using that range, the water needed to produce that amount of fodder per cow is between 4,554 and 6,325 liters of water per day. That's an average of about 1,400 gallons per day.

Here's the breakdown by water type:

  • 27 liters/kg blue water: "the volume of surface and groundwater consumed (evaporated) as a result of the production of a good" (this includes irrigation water)
  • 207 liters/kg green water: "the rain-water consumed"
  • 20 liters/kg grey water: "the volume of freshwater that is required to assimilate the load of pollutants based on existing ambient water quality standards."

460 gallons per day with rainwater ignored

If we want to take rainwater out of the equation, the full 1200 page report from the Water Footprint Network includes an annual breakdown for the U.S. of water usage by type for fodder production:

Green (rainfed):   154,374.1 Mm3/yr
Green (irrigated):  15,933.7
Green (total):     170,308.1
Blue (irrigated):   30,923.2
Grey:               24,385.6
Total:             225,616.9

Thus, rainwater makes up about 68% of the total. Reducing the total above by this fraction gives a range of 1,457 to 2,024 liters per day, or around 460 gallons per day.

What the cows are drinking

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the median dairy cow drinks about 35 gallons (132 liters) per day. A mere pittance compared to the water in their feed!

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