Farm Forum - Assessing water infrastructure ready for summer

By Mary Crawford 

The best way to manage stock water requirements is to have reliable information about your property’s water supplies. This means knowing where the water is, condition of the infrastructure, how much is available and whether it is ‘fit for purpose’. A water stocktake will provide this vital information.

During spring livestock can get 85% of their water requirements from actively growing pastures.  However, as feed dries off in late spring their water consumption will increase and water quality and availability needs to be considered in the developing a water plan. 

With the predicted El Niño and lower than average rainfall, water loss can be very costly, affecting stock condition and the hip pocket.  An unnoticed failure in the farm reticulation system can quickly have dire consequences especially during the hot, dry summer months. Now is the ideal time to assess the water system and repair or replace old and worn pipes and infrastructure.  

One area which can be critical to the wellbeing of your livestock is an adequate supply of water.  It is important that water flow into the stock trough is fast enough to allow all the livestock in the mob to quench their thirst. Pipes, pumps, tanks and troughs are expensive however saving money on cheaper trough valves makes little sense.  Poor quality or worn valves can affect more than the delivery of water to the trough. Pumps cutting in and out will use more electricity and shorten the life of the pump.  Float valves which are stuck open is even more serious where the supply of water is limited or on other properties.  It does not take long to empty a 10,000 Litre tank with a gravity fed 25mm valve but it can a long time to refill particularly if water flow in the pipes is slow or at the end of the line. 

Sheep tend to move in mobs and when they arrive at a trough, the dominant animals will drink first and may empty the trough.  When the dominant sheep have had their fill, they move off and the rest of the mob may go with them, leaving the more timid sheep without a drink if the water flow rate is too slow. 

Stock can damage valves in the attempt to get more water and is one of the leading causes for valve failure. 

Livestock will tend to drink closest to the trough inlet therefore troughs 2.4m – 3.6m length should be adequate as long as the flow rate is 1 to 1.5 Litres per second.  Changing the inlet riser from 32mm to 50mm diameter will increase the flow rate to supply 1000 - 2,000 sheep.  Flow rates need to be increased to 1.5 – 2 Litres/second for mobs of 2,000 – 3,000 sheep. 

Storing water in a tank at or near the trough provides a greater recovery rate for the trough.  The tank can then slowly fill overnight.  Tank size will depend on stock numbers and reliability of the water supply. Tanks should hold a minimum of three days’ supply in case of system failure.  This is particularly useful if water is piped long distances, flow rate is slow, poly pipe is not buried resulting in hot water and reduces the risk of stock running out of water due to water leaks 

When planning water supply requirements allow for evaporation loss, and include native animals in the calculations. As part of assessing your property’s water sources you will need to consider the average versus peak demand and how well-equipped you are to meet an unexpected interruption to normal water supplies.

Thinking about your property’s water supplies as ‘managing your water budget’ is a good way to begin looking for efficiencies in water use across all your operations. A water budget plan may limit the situation of a forced de-stock due to insufficient water supplies.

Stock should not have to walk more than 1.5 km to water. To determine the best placement of troughs and tanks, it is necessary to incorporate the stock water plan into the whole farm plan.  For efficient grazing, water points should be centrally located in a paddock however that is not always practical. It may be preferable to install two troughs at each end in very large paddocks or place the trough half way along the fence line. Another option is to install rises along the pipeline and use a portable trough to encourage a more even grazing pattern. With regular monitoring of stock water and reticulation system, stress and subsequent production loss can be minimised in hot weather conditions.  

This technical article is sponsored Natural Resources Eyre Peninsula. 

Mary Crawford ph: 0407187878 email: Mary.Crawford@sa.gov.au 


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