Stock perform better when drinking from troughs

Dams are the main source of water for livestock in Victoria. The quality of this water source is a high priority for livestock producers.

Research indicates that when cattle are provided with high quality water, they will:

  • drink more
  • eat more
  • gain weight quicker.

Because weight gain in livestock is a priority for farmers, it is worthwhile to ensure that stock water is of high quality.

Restricting stock access

Restricting stock access into water sources helps to maintain a good quality of water, and prolongs the life of the dam or stream.

It is known that dry matter intake is highly correlated to water consumption — the more an animal drinks, the more it eats and vice versa (Murphy et al 1983).

Willms et al (2002) reported that yearling heifers that had access to clean water pumped from a well, spring or river gained 23% more weight than heifers with access to dam water only.

It was also found that when dam water was pumped to a trough, the trough was preferred over dam water. This suggests that cattle might prefer to drink from a trough and avoid entering the dam.

Direct stock access to water

An alternative to allowing direct stock access to a water source is to pipe water from the source to an intermediate storage — such as a trough.

Piping water around the farm through a reticulation system increases the flexibility of the grazing system and improve production.

Installing a stock watering system is often needed to change paddock layout — to move from set stocking into a more intensive rotation. Once installed, producers have greater ability to match their grazing system with animal needs, according to the season and the amount of feed on offer.

Pasture utilisation can be greatly enhanced when animals do not have to travel far for water. A trial showed that pasture carrying capacity could be increased by 14% as a result of keeping cattle within 250 metres of water (Landefield & Bettinger 2002).

Implementing reticulated water within a grazing system can be effective in:

  • improving water quality and animal performance
  • altering distribution patterns of cattle
  • reducing the potential impact of grazing on sensitive riparian areas.

Plan to meet both current and future stock water needs.

Key benefits of troughs

The key benefits of troughs are:

  • improved water quality
  • stock will drink more water, increase their dry matter intake and gain weight
  • stock prefer to drink out of a trough
  • pasture utilisation can be increased.


Landefield, M. and Bettinger, J. (2002) Water Effects on Livestock Performance. Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ohio State University

Murphy, MR., Davis, CL., McCoy, GC (1983) Factors affecting water consumption by Holstein cows in early lactation. Journal of Dairy Science 66:35.

Willms, WD., Kenzie, OR., McAllister, TA., Colwell, D., Veira, D., Wilmhurst, JF., Entz, T., and Olson, ME. (2002) Effects of water quality on cattle performance. Journal of Range Management. 55:452- 460.

Page last updated: 30 Jun 2020