Water supply for sheep and beef cattle in Stock Containment Areas
A sufficient and reliable water supply is essential for the successful operation of a Stock Containment Area (SCA). The stock yarded in such areas are totally dependent on the person responsible for managing this area of confinement. Because of the diet that will be fed to stock in containment areas, it is critical from an animal health point of view that there is a permanently available supply of water. This water supply should be of appropriate quantity and quality and should be reticulated to troughs in the SCA.
Stock do best on water which is fresh, cool and clean. Water should be low in salt, low in organic matter (<20mg/l Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC)), low in suspended clay (<200 Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU)) and free of other toxic substances, such as blue green algae. Landholders should avoid using water which looks or smells bad. Water should be tested if there is any question of its suitability for stock. The maximum recommended salt levels1 for stock in a containment area are shown in Table 1. Stock growth and health will start to decline once salt levels reach above these levels.
Table 1 - Maximum recommended salt levels for stock
|Desirable maximum salt concentration in stock drinking water|
|EC (µS/cm)||mg/l or ppm|
Note1: Stock need to be introduced slowly to water at these upper levels of salt.
There is also some evidence of ill-health in cattle and sheep in south western Victoria due to excessive levels of magnesium salts in underground water supplies. Landholders in this area should get water tested for magnesium if this problem is suspected. Upper limits2 for various elements are shown in Table 2.
Table 2 - Water quality stock tolerance levels
|Calcium||40 mg/L||>1000 mg/L||Phosphorous deficieny|
|Magnesium||0-19 mg/L||> 1000 mg/L||Scouring and diarrhoea|
>1500 mg/L nitrate,|
>30 mg/L nitrite
|Vomiting, convulsions, death|
|Sulfate||250 mg/L||>1000-2000 mg/L||Diarrhoea|
|Aluminium||0.05-0.2 mg/L||5 mg/L||Phosphorous deficiency|
|Arsenic||0.5 mg/L||Diarrhoea, anaemia, poor coordination|
|Copper||1 mg/L||0.5 mg/L||
Liver damage and jaundice,|
Copper accumulation in the liver
|Fluoride||1 mg/L||>2 mg/L||Tooth damage and bone lesions|
|Iron||0.3 mg/L||Low toxicity|
|Lead (notifiable disease)3||0.015 mg/L||0.1mg/L||Reduced coordination, blindness, going off feed|
(related to copper)
|0.15 mg/L||Scouring and loss of condition. Infertility, skeletal disorders, testicular damage.|
|Other minerals become available such as Copper and Aluminium|
|Total Dissolved Solids||500 mg/L||
> 5000 mg/L
|Poor production, diarrhoea, higher mortality rates|
Note2: The upper limits of mineral and metal levels described will vary due to specific geology weathering and acid conditions, in conjunction with high salinity levels or specific management. If feed contains the particular minerals then the limits are lower (Guidelines from the ANZECC 2000).
Note3: Notifiable disease – seek advice from DEDJTR Animal Health
Weather has a big influence on how much water stock will drink. Maximum daily consumption, under extreme weather conditions during summer (>38 degrees Celsius), is estimated for north and west Victoria in the table below. Consumption will reduce significantly in cooler weather.
Sock water requirements should be calculated on;
- the maximum daily demand (Peak demand), to determine the flow rate of water supply to the troughs;
- the long term average consumption (Long term demand), to determine the total volume of the main water storage (i.e. dam) required.
Table 3 - Stock water requirements
|Stock water requirements (litres/head/day)|
|Peak demand||Long term demand|
|Lactating cattle (350-400kg)||120||100|
|Calves (weaners) (250-300kg)||70||55|
Note: These quantities are for water of a low salt content (see Table 1) and where shade and shelter is available.
Reticulation scheme layout
The ideal scheme is to pump from a dam, creek or bore into an elevated tank close to the SCA and then supply the troughs by gravity. Continuous pumping is then not required in this scheme. Pumping may only be required every few days if the tank is able to hold enough water for a few days.
An alternative system is to use a pressure unit, pumping direct to the troughs, with a gravity standby supply tank holding at least two day's supply. This standby tank should be connected in such a manner that it is kept full by the pressure unit and automatically provides back-up supply to the troughs if the pump fails.
If a gravity tank is not incorporated in the scheme and a pressure unit is used to pump direct to the troughs, a backup pump is vital to maintain water supply if the first pump fails. Another advantage of the gravity type scheme is the possible utilisation of cheaper night rate power if electric pumping is intended.
Night rate pumping
If an electric pump is proposed, consideration should be given to utilising cheaper night rate power. A storage tank holding 3-4 days supply should be used. A pressure unit could then be sited at the water source and connected to night rate power. The pump would then be automatically switched on by time switch at 11 pm to fill the storage tank. A pressure switch would switch off the pump when the tank is full and the float valve on the tank shuts. The night rate pumping period generally operates from 11 pm until 7 am and hence the design flow rate should be such that it delivers the daily requirement within this 8 hour period. In any system like this it is advisable to have a manual over-ride whereby the pump can be switched to day rate and operated at any time if necessary.
The source of water for a SCA may come from a dam, creek, channel or bore. Read more about water quality, water requirements and farm dams on this page and seek appropriate approvals where necessary.
It is most important that the quantity and quality of the water is properly checked prior to the siting of any SCA.
Farm dams lose a significant amount of water through evaporation over summer. When estimating the quantity of water needed in storage to supply the SCA, add 100% to allow for this loss.
In the case of bores, the yield should be checked to ensure it is capable of providing the daily demand over the peak summer period.
Assuming a fairly normal autumn break, the water supply for SCA should be designed to last until at least June of the following year.
A stock containment area with 500 dry sheep would require a reliable storage of 1,092,000 litres in the dam (approximately 1 megalitre) to last 6 months.
|500 sheep x 6 litres x 182 days =||546,000 litres (water required in SCA)|
|100% addition for evaporation =||546,000 litres|
|Total =||1,092,000 litres (water required in storage)|
Design flow rates
A reliable water supply to a SCA is vital. To ensure this, a tank with a gravity supply to the troughs is recommended. The tank should hold at least two day's supply in reserve based on the peak daily demand. The tank-to-trough system should be able to deliver the total maximum daily requirement within 4 hours. It is critical that water can enter the trough at a minimum flow rate of 21 litres/minute for sheep and 42 litres/minute for cattle. A higher flow rate is required for lactating animals.
- A gravity supply tank to hold two day's supply for 500 dry sheep would need to hold 10,000 litres
i.e. 500 sheep x 10 litres x 2 days = 10,000 litres
- A reticulation scheme to supply 500 dry sheep, with a tank holding two day's supply would need to be capable of a flow rate of 21 litres per minute.
i.e. (500 sheep x 10 litres) / (4 hours x 60 minutes) = 20.8 litres per minute.
Trough design and layout
Troughs and associated fittings need to be durable and stock proof. Troughs need to be of sufficient length and volume to meet the peak demand. Troughs should be at least five metres in length and have a minimum capacity of 400 litres. Troughs need to be cleaned every couple of days - more often for younger stock. As a result trough design needs to allow for easy cleaning. Troughs should be located as far away from the feed supply as possible, to prevent water contamination. However, flow rates are more important than trough size.
Daily inspection of the water supply system is essential. Problems should be rectified immediately.
As the person in charge of these animals it is your responsibility to ensure that the animals receive adequate feed, treatment and care or else engage someone to do this work for you.
Please refer to the following Codes of Practices on the Agriculture Victoria website.
- Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Sheep (Victoria) (Revision Number 2)
- Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Cattle
Drought Feeding and Management of Beef Cattle – A guide for farmers and land managers 2015
Drought Feeding and Management of Sheep – A guide for farmers and land managers 2015
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