Home Grazing The Forgey Files -- Contents Water for the Grazing System

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Dave Forgey
Dave Forgey
[Photo by T.L. Gettings]
Water for the Grazing System
Plan to get water to every paddock when you design your fences and laneways.

By Dave Forgey, Logansport, Ind., forgraze@carlnet.org

One of the most common questions I hear is, "How do you lay out a water system for the paddocks?"

I feel that getting water to each paddock is one of the most important aspects of making a grazing system work in a dairy operation. Since milk is over 95 percent water, the amount of water a cow consumes has a direct effect on the amount of milk she produces.

We thought through how we would supply our 150-cow dairy herd on our original 120-acre grazing cell as we developed our initial fencing plan. Our farm is approximately 1,800 feet wide and 2,700 feet long, with the milking facility at one end near the center of the 1,800-foot width.

Forgey ran water lines along the
two lanes that run the length
of his farm.
[Full screen view, 294K]
[Photo by T.L. Gettings]
Using an aerial photo from the ASCS, we designed two lanes running the 2,700-foot length of the farm. Each lane is about 450 feet from the outside boundary, leaving 900 feet between them in the center. We laid out paddocks along these lanes with a division fence down the middle of the 900 foot center, making all paddocks about 450 feet deep. We started the waterline at the well near the milking facility and ran it down along one lane, across the 900-foot center paddocks near the other end of the farm, and back the second lane to the well.

Cable plow
Forgey buried 1-inch pipe
with a vibrating cable plow.
[Full screen view, 294K]
[Photo by T.L. Gettings]
We used large coils of 1-inch polyethylene pipe and buried it with a vibrating cable plow used to bury telephone cable. Because of our rocky soils, the vibrating plow was very helpful, but I have seen graziers rig a subsoiler the same way. Others have used a plow to make a furrow, lay the pipe in, then use a rear-mount blade set on an angle to move the soil back in over the pipe. You can even lay the pipe on top of the ground, preferably in a fence row, with good results. Our system (along with most others I have seen) can't be used in freezing weather. But since water requirements are lower in the winter, the cows can return to the barn for water during that time.

Water trough
50 feet of garden hose
allows one riser to
serve several paddocks
[Full screen view, 300K]
[Photo by T.L. Gettings]
It is essential that water is available as soon as the cows enter the paddock. We tried to have water couplings located where they could supply three or four paddocks near their entrances from the lane with a 50-foot length of garden hose. We are using quick-couplers designed for drip irrigation to attach our hoses. They are easy to hook up and allow full water flow.

We use 100-gallon fiberglass tanks plumbed with a Hudson full-flow float into the top of the tank with Schedule 80 plastic threaded pipe. This is very rugged and we have had no problems with the cows damaging them or running out of water. The tanks are easily dumped by one person and moved to the next paddock with the herd. This reduces the cost compared with permanently installing tanks in every paddock. If you're in a dairy system, be sure to use approved floats or place a one-way valve in the system.

Because we have a large limestone shelf near the surface on our farm, we were not able to get all the lines buried a full 30 inches deep. But since our system is a complete loop, to shut down the system for winter we simply install an air chuck in one end and use an air compressor to blow out the water for a couple of hours. This won't get all the water out, but it will get enough air into the system to avoid any damage from freezing. We have not had any damaged pipe in four years of use.

By supplying both ends of the loop, it is like having two lines going to each water tank. This increases the volume of water available to any location. We chose 1-inch diameter plastic polyethylene pipe for our system because the cost was only about $.04 per foot more than 3/4-inch, and it doubled the volume of water through the system. We installed nearly three miles of water line on our expanded 330-acre grazing system at a material cost of less than $2,500 dollars.

Jim Gerrish, a grazing researcher at the University of Missouri's Forage Systems Research Center has found that 600 feet is the maximum distance livestock should travel for water. Beyond that distance they tend to go to water in larger groups, and they do not graze pastures as evenly. If livestock must return to the barn for water frequently in hot summer months, they will not return to the pasture without being driven out. This usually reduces forage consumption and livestock performance.

We do not provide water as the cows leave the milking parlor. They must return to the paddock for a drink. Once there, they usually begin grazing immediately after drinking. We found that when water was provided as the cows left the milking parlor, they would congregate in that area and not return to the paddocks as quickly. With water in each paddock, this reduces the traffic on the lanes and keeps most of the manure in the paddock instead of on the lanes.

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