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Harnessing the Power of Water: Effective Farm Water Planning for Optimal Land Management


Water is a vital element with immense power, and comprehending its movement and accumulation is crucial for effectively utilizing it in agriculture.

Water availability plays a fundamental role in the livestock industry, significantly impacting the well-being of the animals, farm productivity, and overall profitability of the business.

Knowledge of the water requirements for livestock and identifying potential water sources are essential for effective planning, both annually and daily. Water exerts an unparalleled force on the land, guided solely by the unyielding pull of gravity.

It naturally flows downward, meandering through dips and curves until it reaches the lowest point possible.

We can witness these forces in action as spring arrives across our farmlands and communities. As the snow melts and spring rains arrive, water moves and shapes the landscape.

Effective Farm Water Planning for Optimal Land Management

Water can disrupt the smooth management of land, causing challenges when there is an excess or shortage of it. Excessive water hinders work in the fields, resulting in stuck tractors, muddy feet, and even boots being pulled off, leaving you barefoot in the garden.

Conversely, insufficient water during specific periods hampers the germination of crops and the growth of trees. Droughts and seasonal fluctuations in moisture availability significantly impact agricultural yields.

The primary objective of farm water planning is to ensure the availability of water when and where it is needed while considering the associated risks related to water supply reliability.

To achieve this, several essential elements need to be considered. Firstly, understanding the total water requirements of the farm is crucial.

Secondly, evaluating the reliability of available water sources is necessary. Another critical aspect is determining the appropriate storage sizes, such as dams or tanks. Matching stocking rates with water availability is essential for sustainable farming practices.

Designing efficient farm water supply and distribution systems is vital for effective utilization. Lastly, estimating how long water supplies will last during prolonged dry periods helps plan and manage water resources efficiently.

The inadequate water stock can severely limit productivity, leading to the need for destocking or water transportation. Also, poor water quality can negatively affect livestock and their overall productivity.

An integral part of farm water planning involves conducting an annual farm water balance. This process involves performing an audit to accurately calculate the farm’s water requirements. Once the water needs are estimated, the audit identifies available water sources.

Evaluating suitable water supply and storage options is crucial, with considerations such as harvesting rainwater into tanks, pumping groundwater into bore water tanks, utilizing private dams to capture runoff, or pumping water from nearby creeks or rivers into header tanks.

A comprehensive water balance considers water requirements, available water supplies on the farm, the balance between water supply and usage, and existing or potential storage capacities.

By utilizing this information in conjunction with understanding water distribution, quality, and seasonal weather patterns, informed decisions can be made to effectively manage water resources on the farm, ultimately optimizing land management practices.

Unlocking the Potential of Land through Aerial Observation of Water

A comprehensive understanding of the landscape is a crucial aspect of effective land-water management. By adopting a bird’s-eye view, we can transform obstacles into opportunities. Utilizing drone photography emerges as an excellent method to embark on this journey.

Aerial photographs captured by drones offer valuable insights into how water traverses your land during the spring thaw, enabling you to identify the most advantageous areas for intervention.

Unlocking the Potential of Land through Aerial Observation of Water
Credit: hobbyfarms

Often, the current patterns of water movement mirror historical patterns. During this season, one can almost visualize the forgotten streams, water meadows, and wetlands that once thrived.

By strategically reintroducing select waterways into the landscape, we can address specific issues while creating remarkable opportunities for enhanced productivity.

This ecological approach and the growing demand for fresh and locally sourced produce can yield higher returns per acre, especially when supplemented by direct marketing efforts.

Although streams and wetlands were likely removed in the past to make way for increased production, there is no reason why we cannot reintegrate these aquatic bodies into our farm and community landscape, particularly in the face of an increasingly uncertain climate.

It is important to note that the daily water intake of livestock varies significantly depending on the animal species and their activity level. Additionally, climate, environmental conditions, and the quality of feed and water consumed influence water consumption.

It is crucial to consider that the peak water consumption in your local area might surpass the standard figures provided.

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Maximizing Water Resources: Excavation, Reservoir Placement, and Water Quality Considerations

One of the primary steps in managing water resources on your land involves constructing various water bodies such as dugouts, sloughs, duck ponds, streams, ponds, and ditches. Excavation is necessary for this purpose, and while a backhoe can be used, employing an excavator ensures superior results.

To maximize the efficiency of these water bodies, it is advantageous to position them at higher elevations where the land can retain and store water as potential energy.

Additionally, it is essential to identify suitable locations for the subsequent series of reservoirs down the slope. This applies not only to hilly terrain but also to predominantly flat land, as low-lying areas offer ample potential for water storage.

Furthermore, it is crucial to determine how these water bodies can connect with streams, spillways, water meadows, or utilize soil seepage.

Once the water reservoirs are established, it is essential to consider their practical applications. Water stored at higher elevations can serve multiple purposes, including irrigation, livestock watering, washing, and, after purification, domestic use.

Water can be accessed through pumping, gravity-fed systems, or controlled flood irrigation. Gravity-fed watering troughs, drip tape irrigation, sprinkler usage, and stock tanks are all viable options.

Maintaining water quality that is suitable for its intended purpose is paramount. Water quality can significantly impact plant growth, livestock health, soil quality, farm equipment, and domestic use.

It is important to note that water quality is variable and can be influenced by weather conditions and external factors.

Evaporation leads to increased salt concentrations while flushing with water dilutes salts but may elevate sediment, fertilizers, and runoff from manure or nutrients.

Regular water quality monitoring is essential, with increased frequency during summer or periods of extended moisture stress.

Mineral and metal levels described will vary depending on specific geological weathering, acid conditions, high salinity levels, or specific management practices. Feed composition can also influence the limits of mineral levels. Referring to the guidelines provided by ANZECC (2000) is recommended.

Salinity poses a significant water quality challenge in areas where accumulated salts are mobilized and finds their way into waterways and dams.

Salinity encompasses mineral salts such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, sulfate, and carbonate. High salinity levels render water unsuitable for drinking or irrigation.

Electrical conductivity (EC) can measure salinity, with higher values indicating a higher salt content. EC is measured in micro siemens per centimeter (µs/cm).

To ensure the water quality on your farm, it is advisable to have it tested. When conducting water tests, rinse meters and containers with the water to be tested and carefully record the readings, noting the units.

Stock bores should be monitored regularly, either monthly or quarterly. EC meters are readily available and affordable from various water equipment dealers, and some Department of Jobs, Precincts, and Regions locations offer free EC measurements.

Water supply is subject to significant variability, both seasonally and annually. In farm water planning, it is crucial to consider all available water sources and assess the storage capacity for each source.

It is worth noting that the amount of runoff may not match the storage capacity. Once a water tank or dam reaches capacity, any excess water overflows and returns to the environment.

It is essential not to overlook the potential of rainfall runoff from the shed and house roofs as a reliable and efficient water source.

Roofs have a high yield and can convert even minor rainfall events into a valuable supply of high-quality water. Such supplies are ideal for stock and domestic consumption or for use in spraying equipment.

The yield from a roof depends on the roof’s surface area and the amount of rainfall received. However, it is essential to consider that during heavy rainfall, tanks may overflow, leading to water loss.

Maximizing Water Resources
Credit: wikipedia

Optimizing Rainwater Harvesting for Livestock Farms

Livestock farms consume significant amounts of water through dairy washdown, pressure washing, and livestock watering. Therefore, investing in rainwater harvesting proves to be a highly worthwhile endeavor.

A study conducted by Warwick University indicates that drinking water alone accounts for 50-75% of the total water used on dairy farms, with each dairy cow consuming up to 32,000 liters per year.

Utilizing rainwater for livestock purposes presents a valuable opportunity to reduce water bills and provides a reliable water source.

By combining rainwater collection with a borehole or mains water top-up, farmers can meet the various water demands across their farm buildings.

Enduramaxx collaborates with rainwater system installers throughout the UK, offering a range of rainwater-harvesting systems suitable for farms.


These systems range from smaller DIY setups to more advanced pumped systems with mains water or borehole backup supplies, ensuring the collected rainwater is adequately filtered and treated for livestock drinking.

In addition to the financial advantages, rainwater harvesting plays a pivotal role in minimizing the environmental impact of livestock farms.

By capturing and utilizing rainwater, farms can reduce surface water and prevent excessive water from entering slurry pits, thus optimizing the storage capacity for clean water.

According to an ADAS report on a Derbyshire farm that invested £12,500 in a borehole, pumps, control unit, and buffer tank housed within an existing building, significant water cost savings of £6,000 were achieved in the first year.

This installation also incorporated a mains backup supply, ensuring a continuous water source even if the borehole supply was depleted and the buffer tank had exhausted its collected rainwater.

Determining the return on investment (ROI) for rainwater harvesting systems involves several key factors. Firstly, the rainfall in your specific region plays a crucial role.

Different parts of the country experience varying levels of rainfall, with the western side often offering greater potential for rainwater harvesting. You can access rainfall statistics for your location through the Met Office website and use online rainwater calculators to estimate potential savings.

The roof area, type, and pitch influence water collection efficiency. The roof size, the type of roofing material, and the location of downpipes all impact how effectively water can be gathered.

Low-pitched roofs and suitable guttering are particularly effective at collecting water, as excessive water flow through downpipes can result in water loss. The location of downpipes also determines where storage tanks can be placed.

Proper installation and accessibility of water tanks are essential considerations. Ensuring easy downpipe access and strategically positioning the tanks facilitate convenient water reuse for sprayers and other applications.

Planners often view rainwater harvesting favorably, particularly in greenfield dairy projects. Installing a rainwater-harvesting system is typically easier when designing a new unit with the appropriate number of downpipes.

Evaluating your current water usage is essential before determining the potential savings achievable through rainwater harvesting.

Reviewing previous water bills with a rainwater harvesting installer and understanding how water is currently used and potential applications for rainwater will assist in accurately calculating the ROI of a rain harvesting system.

Regarding rainwater harvesting tanks, the choice between above-ground and below-ground storage depends on the specific needs and constraints of the farm.

While below-ground storage can be a suitable solution for domestic applications with limited space, it becomes less practical for industrial or agricultural installations with larger harvested volumes.

Storing large volumes of water underground can be prohibitively expensive and requires pumps to bring the water above ground for usage.

In industrial and agricultural settings, it is more common to have the main volume of harvested roof water stored above ground using multiple interconnected tanks, with a mains top-up in situations where water usage exceeds the stored supply.

Implementing rainwater filters in a rainwater harvesting system is crucial to ensure collected water quality. These filters prevent debris, such as leaves and moss, from entering the storage tank by filtering rainwater from the collection roof.

Different filters are available, ranging from simple mesh or lid filters costing less than £100 to wall-mounted filters that can eliminate leaves, moss, and larger particles, which may cost over £800.

The larger filters are often equipped with self-cleaning mechanisms, utilizing approximately 10-15% of the collected water to remove leaves and moss and divert them to a soakaway or drain.

To ensure the absence of contamination, passing the water through a UV filter before using it for animal drinking water or parlor washing is advisable.

Livestock farms can make informed decisions regarding rainwater harvesting by understanding the benefits, factors influencing ROI, and the importance of proper filtration, leading to significant cost savings and reduced environmental impact.

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Rainwater Tanks, Bore Water, Private Dams, and Waterway Sources

Rainwater harvesting is a highly efficient method of capturing and storing water, particularly in areas with substantial annual rainfall.

Harvesting rainwater from shed roofs and storing it in rainwater tanks offers numerous advantages, including the high quality of the collected water, making it suitable for stock drinking.

Compared to using dams to capture runoff, capturing rainwater from roofs into tanks proves more efficient.

With dams, the surrounding soil must be saturated before water can be collected, whereas rainwater tanks have minimal evaporation losses. Open reservoirs like dams, on the other hand, are more prone to significant evaporation.

One of the benefits of using rainwater tanks is that no licenses are required to store water in them. However, consulting with the local council is advisable to ensure compliance with any necessary building permits when installing new sheds and tanks.

When determining the appropriate tank size, it is crucial to estimate the amount of rainfall, calculate the volume of water collected from the roof, assess the intended usage of the tank water, and determine the necessary capacity.

It is also essential to develop a drought strategy if rainfall becomes scarce and consider alternative water sources, such as using cartage tanks to transport water when needed.

If accessing underground water through boreholes is viable, it is essential to conduct initial assessments to identify the availability, depth, quantity, and quality of the groundwater on the property.

Regular testing and monitoring of bore water quality are essential due to the potential risk of contamination from sources like sewage and agricultural runoff.

Unlike rainwater harvesting, the use of bore water is subject to regional and council government regulations, so it is crucial to check the specific water license requirements and permits set by the local government.

Private dams can serve as excellent water storage solutions but require proper construction and maintenance. Operating licenses, and occasionally surface water use works licenses, are typically required for private dams.

Since dams are exposed to water sources, they are susceptible to contamination from stormwater runoff, livestock or wildlife, and pesticides. Regular testing of dam water quality is recommended to ensure its suitability for irrigation and livestock.

Considering the high evaporation losses experienced during summer, pumping dam water into storage tanks can serve as a reliable backup water source.

Surface water sources, including rivers, creeks, and streams, can be tapped by pumping water into a header tank. Surface water primarily results from rainfall but can also originate from springs where underground water emerges.

Accessing water from waterways usually requires a license obtained through an agreement with the rural water authority to ensure equitable water use among farmers in the region.

Clean surface water is suitable for various farming and household purposes, and pumping it into a storage tank helps minimize evaporation losses.

Installing a header tank at an elevated location allows gravity-fed water pressure, facilitating distribution to troughs and throughout the property.

When considering water pumping from waterways, evaluating the power availability near the river or creek is essential. If necessary, arrangements may be made to provide electricity to the pumping site.

Alternatively, alternative options such as windmills, fuel-powered pumps (petrol/diesel), solar-powered, or airwell pumps can be explored. Selecting the appropriate pump type is crucial for effective water extraction.

By understanding the intricacies of rainwater tanks, bore water systems, private dams, and waterway sources, farmers can make informed decisions on the most suitable water harvesting methods for their specific needs, ensuring efficient water management on their properties.

Rainwater Tanks, Bore Water, Private Dams, and Waterway Sources
Credit: Farmers Weekly

Maximizing Water Retention in Farm Reservoirs

Ensuring a reliable and long-lasting water supply in farm reservoirs is a crucial consideration for farmers. The sustainability of reservoirs can vary depending on their water sources.

Some reservoirs benefit from natural replenishment through springs, while others rely on surface water during springtime, leading to gradual depletion over the summer.

Additionally, certain reservoirs experience groundwater recharge, where they refill as we utilize the water at a rate corresponding to the recharge capacity.

Groundwater, a vital component of property hydrology, can be a valuable asset for water extraction if it is accessible. However, it is essential to acknowledge that groundwater supplies are not limitless and often exhibit variations in quantity and quality over time.

Before any development, it is vital to conduct thorough groundwater testing. The process involves obtaining the necessary licenses, such as the bore construction license for creating a bore and the groundwater extraction license for operating it.

Valuable information can be found on the website of your local water authority, which provides guidance specific to your region.

For ponds fed by perennial streams, springs, or groundwater sources with a high recharge rate (typically at a lower elevation in the local landscape), the most cost-effective approach is to dig the pond, reinforce its banks, and ensure convenient access.

However, if the pond relies on seasonal runoff from snowmelt or rain or water needs to be pumped from a distant river or lake to fill it, measures must be taken to reduce water loss and make the pond impermeable.

An impenetrable barrier can be created using rubber pond liners, which act as impermeable membranes. Alternatively, a puddling technique can be employed, particularly in clay soil.

This involves compacting the clay, effectively squeezing out air, and reducing its porosity to prevent water from penetrating and percolating through, thus establishing an impermeable earthen membrane.

By implementing strategies to maximize water retention, such as relying on sustainable water sources, ensuring impermeability through appropriate techniques or materials, and adhering to licensing requirements, farmers can enhance the longevity and reliability of their farm reservoirs.

This proactive approach to water management contributes to a more sustainable and efficient agricultural operation.

Expert Tips for Efficient Water Management on Farms

  1. Minimize Evaporative Loss: Consider consolidating water from multiple shallow dams into a single dam to reduce evaporative losses. This strategy can help preserve water resources more effectively.
  2. Utilize Excess Water from Farm Sheds: If you collect more water needed for domestic use from farm sheds, consider reticulating it to nearby paddock troughs. This excess water can contribute to stock supply and promote efficient water distribution.
  3. Optimize Pipe Diameter: When installing pipes around your farm, remember that doubling the pipe diameter results in a fourfold increase in flow rate. Choosing a larger diameter, such as a 50mm (2 inches) pipe instead of a 25mm (1 inch) pipe, can significantly enhance water supply.
  4. Centralize Large Water Troughs: Placing large water troughs centrally in paddocks has multiple benefits. It reduces walking distances for livestock, minimizing their energy expenditure, and helps prevent erosion.
  5. Consider Alternative Pumping Options: Air pressure or solar pumps offer viable alternatives in areas without a power supply. These pumps can efficiently distribute water from reliable sources like dams or bores across the farm. They are not dependent on wind and can pump water to significant heights.
  6. Flush Low-Usage Water Troughs: Water troughs with low usage should be periodically flushed out due to evaporation, which can cause a salt concentration. Regular maintenance ensures water quality and prevents salt buildup.
  7. Protect Gully Dams from Runoff: Gully dams in bare paddock catchment areas should be shielded from manure runoff during heavy rainfall. This can be achieved by constructing silt traps using small hay bales or mesh upstream of the dam and implementing fencing and revegetation measures. Restricting stock access is also essential in preventing contamination.
Expert Tips for Efficient Water Management on Farms
Credit: Kilimo Insight

Rainwater Harvesting FAQs

  • Planning Permission: Generally, planning permission is not required for rainwater tanks, as it falls under the local authority’s discretion. In fact, planners often encourage incorporating rainwater harvesting systems into building applications to promote reduced mains water consumption.
  • Licensing Requirements: Currently, there are no licensing requirements for rainwater harvesting. If you currently pay abstraction costs for borehole water extraction, rainwater harvesting can reduce these costs. Some areas also offer rainwater grants. However, testing rainwater used for livestock drinking and parlor water washdown for toxins such as E. coli is advisable. Compliance with water quality standards, like the Red Tractor Assurance scheme’s “fresh” water requirement, is essential.
  • Water Capital Grants: Grants for rainwater harvesting are available in specific regions of the country. Enduramaxx offers a diverse range of water tanks, including horizontal tanks suitable for use as water bowsers and large vertical rainwater tanks. For more information on rainwater harvesting on farms, pricing for water tanks, or Camlock fittings for sprayers, please contact us.

By implementing these expert tips and understanding the guidelines around rainwater harvesting, farmers can optimize water usage, reduce costs, and contribute to sustainable water management on their farms.

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