Why this Meath-based farmer updated his on-farm water system

Providing enough quality water is essential for good livestock husbandry and welfare. Understanding livestock watering needs is paramount to designing a good watering system.

One farmer who ran into some issues during the drought of 2018 was Diarmuid Connell – a dairy farmer from Kells, Co. Meath.

Diarmuid’s herd of 60 cows graze on a milking platform consisting of 60ac, while another 40ac – located a short distance from the milking block – are used for silage.

In 2019, the Meath-based farmer installed in a new water system on the farm.

“I have invested in a water system due to a number of factors which occurred last year [during the 2018 drought],” Diarmuid said in this video (below), which was filmed in 2019.

“During the dry summer, I had issues with stock becoming stressed which led to the possibility of salmonella; I also had fertility issues and a drop in yield,” he added.

With expansion or a change to the system in mind, Diarmuid opted for inch-and-a-half piping which provides enough volume and pressure to supply water to his furthest away paddocks. This can be easily extended should the need arise.

“I was able to put in this system adjacent to the old system, so disruption to the herd was non-existent,” he explains.

In a relatively short period after installation, Diarmuid saw an increase in yield, while fertility levels increased during the spring period.

Touching on the cost of the system, Diarmuid said: “Having done the figures, I think I will have the system payed for in three short years.

“I would recommend it to any farmer going forward. I think it’s great for peace of mind – never mind from the cost point of view; it’s definitely worth investing in.”

In addition, he said: “Even with the recent dry spell in 2020, I’ve been milking five cows less, but producing the same amount of milk and there is no stress in the herd.

“I couldn’t be happier with the investment I made last year and I’m in a much better position to manage a drought,” he concluded.

What makes a good water system?

“If the summer of 2018 taught us anything, it was the importance of a consistent water supply. This is particularly important when it comes down to herd health, production and overall welfare of animals,” explained Glanbia business manager, ED Colgan.

Dairy cows, in milk, require 100-120L of water per day. When grass dry matter (DM) is high, in-milk cows may have to drink over 80% of their water requirement (the balance may be met from forage).

Cows tend to drink 30-50% of their water requirement within one hour of milking, making accessibility, flow rate and trough capacity critical considerations.

Glanbia business manager, ED Colgan

Water makes up 70% of the body and 87% of milk. It also regulates body temperature and is vital for organ functions such as: digestion; waste removal; and the absorption of nutrients.

Daily water requirements can be affected by dietary dry matter, environmental and management factors, air temperature, relative humidity, the level of animal exertion and milk output.

Forage or feed with high moisture content decreases the quantity of drinking water required.

Suckler cows typically drink in the range of 43-65L and one-to-two year old beef heifers drink 35-56L.

Water quality

The quality of the water, which includes temperature, salinity and impurities affecting taste and odour, will also have an effect on consumption rates. Foul odours or tastes, for example, will discourage animals from drinking and depress production.

Depending on the cause, poor water quality can also affect herd health. Contamination of water troughs by dust, spilled feed and faecal matter can lead to the growth of slime.

Eventually, slime-forming organisms die and decay – creating foul odour and/or tastes.

Water Access and trough capacity

Touching on some of the most common on-farm issues, Ed said: “The most common problems we see on farms are smaller water troughs, small water pipes and insufficient pumps to drive the water, along with reduced flow rates.

“This problem is particularly highlighted when we see farm expansion or changing farm requirements.”

Access, flow rate and trough capacity are critical, especially with a dairy herd. A dairy herd’s water requirement in litres is best calculated as dry matter intake (DMI) in kilograms, multiplied by five and add the milk yield in litres.

A 120-cow herd, milking 25L/day and consuming 20kg of dry matter (with a minimum of 16kg of grass dry matter), will therefore have a requirement of 15,000L/day.

With normal grazing conditions, circa 50% will be supplied from the grass and the balance must be available for drinking (7,800L).

The added challenge is that cows will drink 30-50% of that requirement in the first hour after each milking, requiring a fill rate of 2,500L/hour (without considering other stock on the farm drinking concurrently).

Flow rate will be determined by pipe size, throughput capacity of the ball cock and water pressure.

Against the backdrop of that challenge it is always best to have large trough capacities (we recommend 15 gallons/68L per cow in the herd, as cows tend to drink in groups).

Trough capacity will help compensate somewhat for flow rate. 10% of the herd should be able to drink simultaneously.

It is strongly advised to have multiple water points available. This is easily achieved by having a high-capacity trough accessible to cows after exiting from the milking parlour.

Should we experience drought conditions with high temperatures, the above challenge could be almost doubled (with higher dry matter diets) as confirmed during the summer of 2018 with metered records showing water consumption at 120L/cow/day.

Ideally, when designing, re-designing or updating paddocks, water trough placement is a consideration that is to the forefront.

Water troughs should be located at the centre of the paddock for ease of access, while also allowing for key strategic grazing mechanisms during shoulders of the year.

Farmers should pay particular attention to where they place the water trough in the paddock if installing or upgrading their water system.

In an ideal situation, the water troughs should be located in the middle of the paddock to allow the cows access water from all sides.

It is a common trend on many dairy farms to see a water trough located at the entrance to the paddock, or beside the fence, this ultimately increases the amount of walking cows have to access water, which can also increase the amount of damage occurring during difficult grazing conditions.

Central trough placement will allow for strip grazing/back fencing and allocation grazing.

More information

To support farmers to manage challenges associated with the recent lack of rainfall, Glanbia Ireland has launched a campaign titled Water Works’.

Through this initiative farmers can get advice on how to best manage their water supplies, along with great-value offers on a range of water solution products – available in branch or online until August 1, 2020.

To view these offers, just click here ; or to view the ‘Water Works’ brochure, just click here