Top tips for water quality, animal health and livestock productivity
No strangers to drought, Australian farmers know more than anyone the importance of water to sustain life. Every drop counts, so making sure that water quality is maintained is vital for livestock health and productivity. Water that is clear, odourless, palatable, free from toxins and has a low mineral content, without contamination from animals or chemicals, high salinity, or traces of algae is crucial.
Livestock Production Manager, Rob Inglis says that producers shouldn’t underestimate the importance of water, not just for basic hydration, but for its role in nutrition. Hydration level has a direct correlation to an animal’s ability to absorb minerals and achieve desired growth. Below are the top water quality factors to be aware of to ensure the wellbeing of your livestock:
Salt has a major impact on palatability, livestock performance and overall health, particularly in young, pregnant, lactating or weak animals. As well as naturally occurring from rising water tables, salinity levels can also increase after land clearing or from fertiliser, herbicides and pesticides.
It’s important to test water to gauge mineral content and make sure livestock aren’t consuming water above the advised salinity level or with excess levels of certain minerals, like magnesium or nitrate that could impact health. The recommended guide for salt content is a maximum of 5000 parts per million for cattle, and 7000 parts per million for sheep.
Algae can taint the water and lead to blockages in pipes. Algae release toxins that infiltrate water and make it unhealthy and in some cases, lethal for stock to consume. If an algae outbreak occurs on your property, livestock and humans should avoid all contact until treated.
To help prevent this from occurring, minimise the nutrient inflow, cover tanks to minimise sunlight and prevent contamination, reduce fertiliser run-off into creeks and dams, and keep water areas vegetated for protection.
Organic matter like fertiliser, sewerage run-off, and droppings can all contaminate water with bacteria.
With dam levels low across many grazing areas, there are greater risks of shallow, warmer water and higher levels of dangerous bacteria like e-coli, salmonella and chlamydia. To prevent these bacteria impacting cattle, fence off the affected dams and provide clean trough water.
Toxicity can also be caused from heavy metal or chemical residues that are generally caused from run-off, seepage, or leaking waste. These contaminants have the potential to drastically affect productivity. Another potential contaminant issue is lupin stubble as in summer and autumn, weaner sheep will not travel more than 500-600 metres from a water source, increasing the risks of soil erosion and lupinosis from grazing continuously in the same location.
Act preventatively by strategically placing your water sources and again, try to shelter water sources where possible.
Paddock size and water placement
Consider the strategic placement of water sources. The number and size of watering points should vary by paddock and number of head, to ensure that trough size and flow rate is adequate. Kangaroos are common competition for water, meaning that adequate supply is crucial. Clean, good quality and cool water can be achieved by selecting water points that are covered, clear from contaminant run-offs, and sourced from well-maintained sources.
Watering points should be placed no more than 5kms from one another, with a general guide of quantity as 2.5cms of headspace per sheep, and 25cm of headspace per cow.
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