The summer of 2019 has been another very hot and dry season. Coming off one of the hottest years on record, with low rainfall, this summer has had a big impact on most agricultural programs.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for graziers will be access to reliable stock water. Of all the resources available to graziers, stock water is the most vital, and generally the most limiting. Water plays a role beyond ensuring survival. The quality of water offered will impact on feed intake levels and can restrict livestock production if it is outside acceptable ranges.
So how much do your animals consume? Daily consumption varies with the size of your animals, their production status. Obviously a lactating animal will require more water than a dry animal. The feed animals are consuming and weather conditions will also determine daily consumption levels.
As can be seen in this table, consumption for livestock is often higher than many people consider. Dry cattle for example will require between 50 – 70 litres a day depending on their size. However, hot conditions will see that level of consumption increase significantly.
Some research presented by Future Beef noted that rises of 10ºC (e.g. from 25ºC to 35ºC) can almost double daily consumption, particularly if there is high humidity as well. Its also important to recognize that lactating cows may have a 30% higher daily water intake than dry cows.
Water quality is a key factor in livestock intake. There are several components to water quality.
- pH will impact on consumption and influence feed intake and rumen function. Low pH (more acid) will impact on rumen acidosis levels and suppress feed intake. While higher pH levels (more alkaline) will cause rumen upset, diarrhoea and poor feed conversion.
- Salinity levels will also determine consumption levels. Salinity tests on water assess the sum of all mineral salts in water. Salinity can impact animal health as a result of their feed, temperature and humidity and the levels of salinity in the water itself
- Algae, contaminants such as mud or debris from storm run off, and contamination from faeces are all issues that will restrict intake or cause health issues.
How much water is in your dam?
Part of any plan regarding water is to know how much you have stored. Most people I speak with don’t really know how much they may have in a dam or in total, which can significantly add to the stress levels people feel.
The easiest way to work through estimating a dam’s water amount requires:
- a tape measure
- some very strong twine (like plumbers line)
- two heavy duty lead sinkers
- a dozen (or more) fishing floats.
Firstly you need to attach the sinkers to the end of the line. Then tie a slot every metre from the end of the line. Number each float with a large number suing a colour you can read easily.
Step 1: Measure two sides of your dam (this allows you to work out your surface area in square metres)
Step 2: Drag your sting across the deepest part of your dam and allow the floats to bring the line to vertical.
Step 3: Read the number of the float holding the line vertically.
Step 4: Multiply the surface area (From Step 1) by the depth you have just measured.
Step 5: To allow for the shape of your dam, multiply this figure by 0.4. This will tell you the total volume of your dam.
Step 6: To convert this total to mega-litres, divide the number by 1000.
Doing this exercise once a month will give you a fairly accurate stock take of water supply. If you calculate how many animals you have, and how much they drink each day, you will soon determine your overall levels of consumption.
Dividing this consumption by your total water supply will give you a time period for your current water supplies.
Effective plans need to have a time frame, and if your water supplies are the most limiting issue on farm, then it’s vital to have a time estimate. This estimate gives you the chance to make new plans and be proactive in your management, rather than responding or reacting when your options are much more limited.
When you do these evaluations, you will quickly determine that trucking water to stock is a task that can't be done effectively. The shear demand of water, let alone time and access may make the exercise extremely difficult. For many people trucking water is an impossibility when they realistically assess their livestock demand and the resources and time they have to meet the daily demand of livestock. Early planning will help you weigh up your options and focus you on using your limited resources as well as you possibly can.
If you need help in making plans or you require some advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. This is a key service I provide to producers and I’m happy to help where I can.
How are your water supplies at the moment? Water quality & quantity is vital for livestock health & performance. Unfortunately I reckon many people don't manage their water as well as they could.
How much water stock need to drink each day depends on several things. First it depends on what class of stock they are. Lactating cows need more water than dry stock will. Secondly it depends on the feed that stock are grazing. High quality pastures have more water content compared to a dry standing feed and this influences daily water intakes as well. Finally temperature has a big influence on water intake.
This might seem like common sense. But do you have any idea how much water your cattle need every day?
The daily requirements for cattle are much greater than many people realise.
Lactating cows on grassland will require between 40 - 100 litres. On saltbush country this increases to between 70 - 140 litres.
Dry stock (400kg) will require 35 - 80 litres.
In hot conditions you should expect the daily requirements of your stock to increase by up to 40%
So how much water do you have to get through coming months? I reckon now is a good time to conduct a quick check of your water supplies.
Many people talk about trucking water for cattle. I reckon trucking water is a huge undertaking if you are to actually supply your stock with the required water levels each day.
The other question to ask yourself is how well are you managing your water supplies? If you are allowing your stock to trample the edges of the dams, you will lose water quality through silt and animal waste pretty quickly. Not only does this ruin the water quality, it promotes algae blooms and pugs up the dam. When stock are weak, wading through mud and silt to get a drink wastes precious energy.
Ideally managing water well, means maintaining both quality and quantity.
Keeping cattle from fouling water supplies might mean investing in some ploy pipe, a trough, and some electric fencing to keep them off the dam.
I know this might be a hassle to set up. However in the long term, if it maintains your water and helps you meet your animals daily requirements, I reckon its worth doing.
As we come into the hotter months, the importance of good water quality will be just as vital as having enough for your stock each day.
Keep an eye on your water. Running a check should be part of your drought management plan. If you are keeping track, you are much less likely to get stuck in a difficult situation if the drought worsens.
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