Sustainable farming - farm water supply

waterIn a nutshell
  • The water supply for the farm is a major capital asset.
  • It is good advice when looking at a new property to inspect the water supply before  you look at anything else.
  • Water is needed for domestic use, for livestock to drink, for yard washing and cleaning farm dairy equipment, and for irrigating pasture or crops.
  • The requirements for all these uses are different.
  • Serious health and production issues can arise if water is not of the required quality.
  • Water for human consumption and farm dairy cleaning must be "potable" - ie, drinkable without health risks.
  • Sources of water:
    • Roof water - a good cheap source but is variable.  Large roof area needed.  It can be contaminated by chemical sprays and bird effluent.
    • Town supply - very reliable; treated and potable.  Remember the costs.
    • Ground water from springs.  Source may be unknown; supply may vary.
    • Ground water from bores.  Can be deep or shallow.  Costs of drilling and risks of failure.  Quality must be tested for minerals deleterious to health.  Risks of contamination from septic tanks, animal effluent and runoff.
    • Artesian water - from deep source and usually very potable.  Check for contamination from animal effluent.
    • Lakes, ponds and dams.  Collected from natural sources, usually runoff.  Can be very variable because of rainfall.  Prone to pollution around edges where stock drink.  Man-made ponds and dams need to be properly sealed.
    • Streams, rivers and creeks.  Need a water right to use.  Prone to stock damage and contamination.
How can you tell if you have a problem?
  • Water from the tap that is:
    • Coloured
    • Rich in sediment.
    • Has an abnormal smell and taste.
    • Stains clothes.
    • Produces scales around heating elements.
    • Corrosive.
    • Contains bacteria and toxic substances.
  • Regular bouts of diarrhoea among family members, especially children.
  • Water in troughs that is dirty, discoloured, and has algae present.
  • Water pipes that block up regularly and blow joints.
  • Corrosion in pipes.
  • Black colour in the hot water jug (acid water caused by dissolved Carbon dioxide)
  • Hard white deposits in hot water jug or water heating element due to excess calcium (hard water).
  • Difficulty in making a lather with soap - hard water caused by excess calcium.
  • Blue copper stains in the bath or washbasin caused by excess carbon monoxide making acid water that dissolves the copper pipes.
  • Blonde hair that goes blue on washing - excess acid in the water.  The dissolved copper colours the hair.
  • Brown stain in bath or toilet, on in troughs caused by excess iron.
  • Black deposits around toilet caused by excess manganese.
  • Stock refuse to drink the trough water.
  • Stock tracking too and from the troughs.
  • Stock having to drink from waterways or dams, especially where they stand in the water.
  • Stock effluent in waterways.
How can you tell if you're doing well?
  • Potable water for the domestic supply that is:
    • Clear, colourless and odourless.
    • Has a pleasant taste.
    • Free of sediment.
    • Does not stain clothes.
    • Does not produce scale around heating elements.
    • Is non corrosive.
    • Is free from toxic substances and harmful bacteria.
  • Water troughs that stay clean all the time and need little maintenance.
  • Trough water that stock drink eagerly.
  • A system that never fails to provide water for stock.
  • All pumps, equipment and troughs well protected.
  • Healthy livestock.
  • Water that flows well with no blockages to repair.
  • All waterways on the farm to be running clear with plenty of life in them.
  • A system that will meet OSH requirements for staff health and safety.
What can you do to improve things?
  • Use a consultant to draw up a complete water system for the farm.
  • In the plan the key features to consider are:
    • The water supply
    • Pumps to move it around the farm
    • How to exploit gravity in distribution.
    • Pipes - sizes, materials and friction affecting flow rate.
    • Storage
    • Troughs - number and size, temporary or permanent.
    • Stop valves to control system
  • Map the current water reticulation system.
  • Test water regularly to make sure it is fit for purpose.
  • Depending on purpose, test for these major components:
    • Coliform
    • Faecal coliform
    • Electrical conductivity
    • Total dissolved salts
    • Alkalinity
    • pH
    • Iron
    • Carbon dioxide
    • Calcium
    • Magnesium (temporary and total hardness)
    • Manganese chloride
  • Make sure there is adequate trough capacity for the stock on the farm.
  • Ensure the system will meet peak demands, especially in hot dry periods.
  • Calculate the needs of the livestock:
    • Human (domestic use) - 180-200 litres/day
    • Milking cow - 70 litres/day
    • Dry cow - 55 litres/day
    • Yearling - 30 litres/day
    • Calf - 14 litres/day
    • Sheep - 4 litres/day
    • Lamb - 1 litre/day
    • Sow - 25 litres/day
    • Poultry (100 birds) - 20 litres/day
  • Have a regular trough-cleaning programme in place.
  • Prevent stock drinking from waterways by fencing them off.
  • Avoid contamination of waterways from soil runoff and applied fertilisers.
  • Ensure that the water system on the farm meets all OSH requirements.
Where can you go for help?
  • Regional Councils
  • County Councils
  • Federated Farmers of NZ
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Department of Conservation
  • Water testing laboratories - see the Yellow Pages
  • National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
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