Water water everywhere thanks to wisdom and vision
Leonardo da Vinci described water as "the driving force of all nature" and we suspect he'd get no argument from Tim Leeming.
A Coopworth composite lamb producer from Pigeon Ponds in the Western District, Tim takes his water very seriously.
Sit for ten minutes around the kitchen table with Tim and his wife Georgie on their Paradoo Prime farm and you get literally soaked in a sea of water stories.
There is the one about how his soldier settler parents faced some thirsty moments in the 1967 drought and responded with a new reticulated system once the rain returned.
This was in the day of poorer quality troughs, rust-prone galvanised pipe and a reliance on windmills for pumping water.
The1982-83 drought saw more windmills added to take water from dams to troughs on the soldier settlement block.
Since taking over the property in 1997, Tim has continued the water improvement program, as well as dramatically increasing the property size.
Paradoo sits in majestic red gum country south of Victoria's first inland settlement, Harrow.
The undulating landscape creates numerous creeks and provides an ideal opportunity for water catchment.
Permanent creek water on most of the property supplies about 15 per cent of the land, along with four dams.
"This country is good for catching water but hard for moving it, due to it being lower in the landscape and requiring good head pressure," says Tim.
In the 2006 drought Tim realised the windmills were not doing the job sufficiently, as they could not provide enough energy to push the water to the head pressure required.
The solution was a huge turkey nest dam with a one megalitre (1 ML) capacity. Tim had seen them installed on other farms in the district and they were great for storing water.
Which is just as well, as good groundwater is in short supply.
"There were a few bores in the district in the early years but they were unreliable and a lot of bores have since dried up or collapsed."
Tim learned quickly that while a large dam on top of the hill was great for storing water – it did not take long to evaporate in such an exposed position.
"Half of it evaporated, so we added a 22,000 litre tank on the bank of the turkey nest."
Water from this storage is gravity fed to troughs around the farm.
Also in 2006 Tim increased the size of his main catchment dam to 4 ML. Not long after the excavation, the heavens opened up and filled the extra capacity with enough water to get Tim through to April 2007.
His sheep were in a stock containment area before the rain came and Tim remembers carting four truckloads of water to them in one day to keep up with demand.
He considers carting water a massive time waster and completely inefficient.
"In our landscape there is no excuse [for carting water] as we have plenty of undulation and catchment opportunity."
Photo: 22,000 litre tank on the bank of a turkey nest dam
Expanding Paradoo over the past ten years began in 2007 with the purchase of a 190 ha block near Balmoral. This block was undulating with a creek so Tim installed 5 km of poly pipe and managed to move water to a tank 600 metres from the water source and from there into troughs.
In 2010 he bought another 820 ha block in the district. Before the purchase he carefully researched the topography and capacity for water reticulation online, via google maps.
It featured a 12 ML dam which could supply the whole farm with a series of tanks and troughs. The water plan was devised and 12 km of pipe laid across the top of the tablelands to fill five 22,000 litre tanks via an Airwell pump. It now involves 70 constructed and planned water points across 80 paddocks.
Another 240 ha block was purchased in 2015 where Tim discovered an old bore and windmill in the corner of one paddock. He sunk a new bore down 20 metres and struck good water.
"Although bores are generally unreliable in this area this one produces 1200 litres per hour which is enough to water 2500 sheep."
Tim moves water around this block via 7 km of mostly 50 mm poly pipe. "Last year we had water to every paddock we needed to."
Improvements to water are ongoing, but easier and lower in cost once you have the bulk of the infrastructure in place.
Tim is now looking at using remote sensing to check the tank storage from afar by SMS message for the cost of 22 c/day.
"We can have a few weeks away and still be able to check water levels. If levels change or drop, an alarm can notify you via the mobile. It's more of an early warning system so problems can be solved before a bigger issue arises."
Benefits vs costs
Some of Tim's most profitable years have come after a dry period.
"If water resources and infrastructure are inadequate during dry times, graziers are forced to destock or reduce carrying capacity. This invariably erodes the capacity for the business to earn money once the season turns around."
He says as stock prices become higher when supply is low it is important to take advantage of this. After the 2014-15 dry period the gross farm income for Tim's business increased by 30 per cent with a substantial reduction in costs.
"We stuck to our guns; had water, protected pastures and increased our capacity to earn. Eighty per cent of your profits tend to come in 20 per cent of years.
"Reducing your core business capacity is easy to do and is often a reactionary measure. It is important to take advantage of the good years with good stock numbers once the rain does return."
Tim investigated the costs of putting in 50 dam watering points compared to setting up a reticulation system.
Table 1 shows the cost of the dam system to be 2.4 times the cost of the reticulation system. This assumes the cost of installing each dam is $3500 and that all dams will catch and hold water.
Table 1: Comparing the cost of dams to a reticulation set up
50 water point system establishment
on 820 hectare property
Reticulation set up
Dam set up
($3500 per dam)
"The bigger the farm, often the cheaper it gets as the pipes and troughs multiply, but the big costs of pumps and key dams goes down in comparison."
It is not only about the costs of the water system but there are enormous benefits that a good reticulation system can provide.
"Having a flexible reticulation system with subdivision fencing and adding water points is a major benefit for grazing management. Pasture growth, persistence and utilization requires smaller paddocks and bigger mobs and is only possible using reticulated, flexible water systems."
Recent studies show that rotational grazing results in 5-15% more growth as pastures are allowed to recover and it also contributes to a higher perennial grass content leading to improved pasture persistence (Saul, 2011).
Photo: Tim Leeming
- Do an audit on your worst case scenario – make sure you include a household garden allocation in the budget for both fire safety and your mental health.
- Farm water budgeting is critical.
- Ask the question – how reliable are my water resources?
- A key dam is critical - speak to local authorities early if you want to increase your dam capacity.
- If drought-proofing your farm, make sure you over estimate the water you will need.
- Well-designed farm water systems will enable your business to maintain and build capacity and resilience.
Producer: Tim and Georgie Leeming
Location: Paradoo Prime, Pigeon Ponds
Property size: 1510 ha
Annual Rainfall: 600 mm
Soils: Sandy loam on an undulating landscape
Enterprise: Self-replacing Coopworth composite flock and seasonal cattle backgrounding.
Land Management Extension Officer
Agriculture Victoria, Ballarat
Visit the farm water solutions page.
Saul .G. 2011 Grazing management – sorting fact from fiction. Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Conference of the Grassland Society of Southern Australia Inc.