Water is essential in milk production. It takes 4-5 lbs. of water to produce 1 lb. of milk for a cow. A single cow can drink 3-5 gallons per minute! Water is also needed to help regulate temperatures of cows and to ensure their body functions flow smoothly. Having a well-thought water system design will benefit both cattle and your bottom line.
Water Quality – There is little research about drinking water pollutants and water quality for dairy and farm animals. It is important to be proactive in making sure water quality is high for your herd. Wells need to be properly constructed. If utilizing a natural source of water (pond or spring), make sure that the water is treated before it reaches the animals. Calves are usually the first to show signs of poor water quality due to their weak immune systems. Test annually with a certified lab if possible, and a water meter can help monitor water intake levels as well.
Location of Source – Whether natural or manmade, it is important to protect the source of water for a farm. An area with a 100 foot diameter should be kept empty around the water source. Do not store or keep anything here that you wouldn’t want your herd to ingest. Keep farm machinery and manure stores away from this area. If the water source is on a hill, allow more room above the source, since water runs downhill.
Hidden System – Pipes, pumps, and reservoirs are just as important to the water system design as the end product, but typically go unseen. Make sure piping is big enough to allow for the proper flowage of water needed. Water should be flowing quick enough that the cows never have an empty drinking container. Reservoirs are great to have if a well is unable to constantly meet the demand of cattle. If the majority of cattle drink after milking, there might be a large demand on the system all at once, and water from the reservoir can be used to fill in the gap. Then the reservoir can be replenished once the demand for water decreases again.
Waterers – The waterers for cattle can vary depending on how a barn is set up, but all waterers should have some of the following qualities. There should be a constant flow through troughs or bowls to keep the water fresh, replenished, and moving. It’s best to have a big surface area for the cows to drink from and have extra space around the watering area so that several cows can access, and there is still room to walk around.
Plan for failures – It’s bound to happen at some point, so having a well-designed water system can greatly impact how easily and quickly the problem can be fixed. Don’t rely on one piece of the system to stop all water flow; instead, have several water stops so if you need to work on a broken area, a much smaller part of the design is affected. Each waterer should be individually sourced, so if one breaks, the rest of the system can still function without it. It’s best to have the system run in a full loop, so it doesn’t dead end, to help create a better water flow.
Water System Design on the Dairy PennState Extension
Martin, Joseph, Joseph Harner, and John Smith. Water System Design Considerations for Modern Dairies PennState Extension