Water in paddocks improves grazing
Water deserves a lot more respect when it comes to laying out grazing systems.
Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, thinks graziers should pay attention to water first — before deciding on fences, paddocks and forage plantings. “Too often, water is the last thing,” he says. “Water determines how well the grazing system can be managed.
• Watering points determine a grazing paddock layout.
• While expensive, a water system is not a good place to skimp.
• A day with an engineer who knows water is well-spent.
“If livestock must walk over 900 feet to find water, grazing efficiency falls off fast. Any time a cow is walking to water, she is not doing what she needs to be doing: grazing or ruminating.”
Water is so important that Kallenbach recommends spending time with an engineer who understands flow coefficients and other hydrological factors that make water systems work.
You can lay a pipe to run water a hundred feet to a tank, make some big mistakes, and get by. However, if you’re running a water main a mile, with lots of laterals, you need help.
“Design the water system big enough to do what needs to be done,” Kallenbach says. “Water systems are expensive, often more so than fencing or establishing forages. But it’s not a good place to skimp.”
A system will depend on the type of livestock. Small calves drink a couple of gallons a day, stockers drink six gallons, and a beef cow drinks about 20 gallons. A lactating dairy cow needs 50 gallons. She pumps a lot of water through her system to make 100 pounds of milk, Kallenbach notes.
The estimated water demand will determine the size of the tanks and the needed flow rate of the water pipes. Cows often come to the waterers in groups, especially if they must travel a distance. That increases the demand in a short time span.
Without adequate water, gains will suffer. Without any water, animals will die. “A good water system is essential,” Kallenbach says. “It’s worth some study time and seeing what works for other people.
“There must be a thousand kinds of waterers — well, maybe not that many,” Kallenbach says. “Some are freeze-proof. That might not be needed in some paddocks.”
Choose your source
Working systems will vary from farm to farm, and from one part of the state to the other. Water comes from ponds, wells, or even public water mains.
“I’ve seen systems supplied by a small constant-flow spring that has an old-fashioned hydraulic ram to give water a lift to a hilltop distribution tank,” Kallenbach says.
If a pond is used, it should be fenced to keep cattle from loitering in it. However, limited-access points can be fenced to allow cows to drink direct from the pond, while keeping cows out of the water. That will probably require laying a gravel approach. A floating hot-wire fence can allow the access to rise and fall with the water level.
“The main thing is that a system must be designed to work on that farm,” Kallenbach says.
In his grazing research projects, Kallenbach uses flexible pipe laid under hot-wire fences that fill portable tanks fitted with float-activated dispensers. This can be used as a starter.
The main caution is to lay the pipe under a hot wire. “People on four-wheelers tear up more pipe than cows do,” he says.
Don’t underestimate the value of portable water tub and flexible-pipe systems used with a fixed system.
In intensive forage growth times of the year, large paddocks can be subdivided. Or, late in the season, they give maximum efficiency when strip-grazing fall stockpile.
This article published in the May, 2010 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.