Within any grazing system, water must be provided to livestock in adequate quantity and quality. Clean water and ample high quality forage are essential for improved livestock production. Inadequate livestock water developments in pasture areas can contribute to serious livestock losses, prevent efficient use of forages, encourage overgrazing near existing water supplies and under-grazing away from the water sources.
The following table (taken from the University of Wisconsin "Pastures for Profit") can be used as a general guideline for daily water requirements of grazing animals:
|Animal||Gallons Per Day|
|Dairy Cows (in milk)||30|
Keep in mind that these are average figures. Water needs vary greatly with air temperature, relative humidity, animal size and percent moisture of the diet. For example, water needs are higher on hot, dry days or when grazing dry forage. Water needs decrease on cool, rainy days, or when livestock graze lush forage. Young, lush forage will have a moisture content of 70 to 90% and can account for a large percentage of an animal's water needs.
Providing adequate water to livestock is usually seen as one of the biggest obstacles to starting a rotational grazing plan. Many graziers use lanes to provide access to a central watering location, but the ideal situation is to have water available in every paddock. Economic analysis of grazing systems indicate that money spent to provide water to several central locations or to each paddock generates rapid repayment due to increased animal productivity and better utilization of pasture forage which decreases feed costs. Jim Gerrish and co-workers at the Forage Systems Research Center in Missouri have researched the distance beef cattle have to travel to water and how that affects grazing distribution and
pasture utilization. In a study involving 160 acres, these researchers found that animal carrying capacity could be increased an additional 14% simply by keeping livestock within 800 feet of water. Carrying capacity was increased due to better pasture utilization, which permitted more forage to be harvested as compared to systems where livestock had to travel more than 800 feet to water. At the time of the study, that additional carrying capacity resulted in an additional $35 of gross income per acre annually.
Researchers in Wyoming have conducted similar studies under rangeland conditions. Results there showed that cattle did 77% of their grazing within 1,200 feet of the water source. Although approximately 65% of the pasture was more the 2,400 feet from the water source, it supported only 12% of the grazing usage.
The researchers at Missouri concluded that for the humid, temperate zone of the U.S., (like Ohio), water sources should be closer to livestock than under rangeland conditions. For optimal land use efficiency, water should be provided within 600 to 800 feet of all grazed areas
Water for livestock from a pond can best be developed by installing floating inlets and piping the water with gravity flow, or pumping to a tank or a series of tanks below the dam. Water located two feet below the surface has been found to be the highest quality water in a pond.
Springs will generally supply higher quality water than a pond. The water tank should be located where it can be accessible to the livestock, but away from the spring box and collection system. The overflow should be piped away. The water can be piped by gravity to one, or a series of tanks.
Many producers are fencing livestock out of streams or restricting their access to the stream for drinking only. Limiting the animals to small areas that have been protected from erosion allows them a watering site without disturbing the entire stream bank. Some producers are restricting all access and pumping the water from the stream into tanks for the livestock.
A few livestock producers are utilizing a well or public water and are pumping and piping the water to tanks or frost proof fountains.
Pump alternatives where there is no electricity include the pasture pump, ram pumps, and sling pumps.
If the water system is gravity flow, use a linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) pipe. For pressurized systems, use a rolled high density polyethylene (HDPE). The size of the pipe needs to be matched to the demand placed on it. Gravity flow and siphon systems will typically require 1 1/4 inch pipe. One inch pipe should be sufficient for most pressurized systems. In situations where large numbers of livestock are running together, professional assistance will be useful in sizing tanks and water pipes for mains and laterals.
"Water wagons" are low cost from a materials stand point but expensive from the extra labor that is required. However it does allow a producer to keep expenses to a minimum during the startup phase of a grazing operation. Water wagons can also be useful in severe droughts when normal water sources fail.
Portable piping systems seem to be a good alternative for most farms here in Ohio. These systems can either be above or below ground pipes with occasional risers. First of all, design with flexibility in mind especially when you are just starting your pasture system. It may be best to lay the pipe above ground until you have gained enough experience to know where the fences and water lines should be placed.
There will always be concern with black plastic pipe getting too hot in July and August. Water consumption in cattle is highest when the water is at room temperature (90-100 degrees F). That is not to say that the water will not get hotter than room temperature. Locate the pipe under a fence where shading from tall grass will keep it as cool as possible. Dumping the water tubs in mid-afternoon on hot days will allow cooler water to flow into the tank. Small tanks have an advantage in that near constant flow of water for a large group of livestock will maintain a more consistent temperature.
The area around all permanent tanks should be "raveled with egg sized stone or otherwise treated to provide all weather access. The large stones are uncomfortable to stand on and help to prevent boss cows from dominating a water source. Temporary or portable tanks are best when placed under an electric fence wire to help control the access and prevent tank damage or upset by the animals.
Livestock watering facilities such as tanks, pumps and pipe should be sized to meet the needs of all the livestock that will be using the system. If the water source yields less than what is needed for a watering period, but can provide the daily needs, a storage tank can be used. Buried pipe needs to be placed at least 30 inches deep for freeze protection during severe winters. If the pipeline is delivering gravity flow water, eliminate all the humps in the line where air could become trapped and stop the flow. Plastic or polypipe should not be laid in a straight line in the bottom of the trench. It should be curved back and forth to allow for contraction in the cold weather. A general rule is to "install 101 feet of pipe for every 100 feet of trench". Stones should be removed from the bottom of the trench so the pipe is not laying on or next to potential "line breakers". Most graziers feel the costs of water development was some the best money they have spent. Costs do need to be kept to a minimum and preferably less that $20 per acre.