Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
Send us your E-mail to receive our Newsletter:
Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358
Fax: (859) 323-1952
Many farmers that are currently using a rotational grazing system will argue that implementing a water system is the most vital and limiting factor. Having water available to livestock in every paddock is important for maximum animal performance and health. Dry matter intake is directly related to water intake. The less water an animal drinks, the less feed it will consume which results in reduced gains, milk production, and animal performance. Strategically placed water not only benefits livestock but benefits pastures as well.
It is suggested that water be placed within 800 feet of all areas of the pastures. Having water in ideal locations encourages more uniform grazing and manure distribution. This will also allow for smaller water troughs to be used as drinking will not become a “social event.” When livestock must travel further distances to water they will travel as a herd. This behavior causes lounging at the water source, manure build-up, increased soil compaction, and the need for a larger trough with higher flow rates to provide adequate water to the whole herd. Typically, only a few animals will drink at a given time if the water is placed within 800 feet of the herd. This will reduce travel time to water source as well as time spent standing around water which, in turn, increases time spend grazing.
Other factors can also affect the amount of water consumed and need to be considered. As the temperature and humidity increase, water intake will also increase. Livestock prefer water to be near body temperature. Water should not be too warm in order to keep intake at ideal levels and to keep animal performance at a maximum. Thus, waterers may need to be shaded in the summertime. Water quality can also affect water intake, herd health and performance. It is important to avoid contamination of water by microorganisms, chemicals, suspended solids, and other pollutants. Preventing cattle from urinating and defecating in the water source will also help keep water quality high. Larger animals and lactating animals require larger amounts of water. It is vital that there is enough water available for the entire herd.
Different types of watering systems can be used to provide water in every pasture. Ponds and streams can often be efficient and cheap to use but can sometimes be unreliable during hot, dry periods. If using ponds or streams, it is important to be aware of and to moderate environmental damage such as soil erosion and contamination of the water source. It is best to allow limited access to these areas in order to reduce environmental effects. Frost-free water systems are ideal to provide clean, plentiful water year round. Water can come from a municipal water source or can be pumped from a pond. These are usually stationary and can be expensive to install. A portable water system is often the most feasible because it is fairy cheap to install and can be moved with the livestock. These systems include a float valve and a tank that is small enough to be moved (usually a 25 to 50 gallon tank). Water is delivered through a pipe which can either run below ground or above ground. Below ground pipes are preferred to reduce freezing problems. Setting up a system where a small amount of water is allowed to flow at all times can also help prevent freezing problems in the tank.
Having cool, clean water in every pasture is necessary to maximize animal performance. There are different approaches to acquiring water in every pasture that may be better for specific farms depending on finances, livestock, and the land type. Developing a water system is the basis of any good rotational grazing system.