Livestock water: You must get this right

Helen Smith and Fiona Leech Agriculture Advisors [updated for new season - check in with Helen and Fiona]

It’s a sobering statistic that the Bureau of Meteorology recorded the lowest annual rainfall in 29 years of records at Braidwood Race Course in 2019. It’s vital to consider the practical implications.

Minimal run-off and recharge of farm dams will seriously impacted farm stock water supplies.

While the season has thankfully improved, it is still essential to understand your animals’ water needs and make plans for the next drought.

Budget: quantity and quality

Knowing where water is on-farm and how much is available is vital during drought.

Doing a water budget is equally as critical as a feed budget. It is not a feasible practice to be carting water to livestock for extended periods: it is financially, physically and emotionally draining.

Past experience is important: know your water sources, including reliability, storage capacity and ability to hold water. However with the extreme weather we have recently experienced, review your situation, as past experience may not apply to the current conditions.

Make sure that the water is available where the animals can and will access it.

A water budget takes into account evaporation from storages, seepage, native and feral animal usage, water taken for fire-fighting, and fouling. A calculation using numbers of livestock and their predicted water intake will determine a timeframe for which the water will last.

You may need to put in place a plan to destock as water runs low. Do not wait until the stock water runs out, as this is an extremely concerning animal welfare issue.

Summer rainfall events and heavy thunderstorm activity may provide run-off water.

Unfortunately these are highly localised, and the run-off also brings debris, manure, ash, etc which fouls the water collected. Once the debris settles or is partially removed, water is usually suitable for stock to drink.

Due to the increased nutrient content, monitor for algal growth (particularly blue-green algae). Contact your nearest LLS office for assistance with water quality, including testing for livestock consumption.

Further information is available here.

Water conservation

As on-farm water storages move to critical levels you can act to conserve water.

Shifting and consolidating water will reduce evaporation losses and allow shallower dams to be cleaned out.

Troughing water out of dams achieves better extraction and reduces the risk of stock getting stuck. Troughing via a header tank is also worth considering in order to reduce evaporation.

The summer months can see evaporation rates anywhere from 30 to 50% of dam capacity. In recent years evaporation rates have exceeded past records due to increased temperatures and wind. Protection, such as vegetation around the dam, will help reduce evaporation rates. In extreme cases, managers have covered dams to prevent evaporation loss.

Consider whether you have the time and money to upgrade your watering system. Again, this may not be feasible at the point of running out, and planning ahead will achieve the best outcome for you and your livestock.

Support is available

For drought-affected farmers there is an On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate scheme available via the NSW Rural Assistance Authority website or by phoning 1800 678 593.