Plan to get water to every paddock when you design your fences and laneways.
By Dave Forgey, Logansport, Ind., firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
©1997 Committee for Sustainable Farm Publishing
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