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Tips for a Well-Designed Water System

Tips for a Well-Designed Water System

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

Mixer Scale Importance with Precision Feeding

Mixer Scale Importance with Precision Feeding

How often do you feed your herd what the nutritionist actually recommends? Cattle rations are carefully planned and evaluated to ensure optimal performance of each herd. For a precision-feeding program, it is necessary that animals get the TMR recommended by professionals for optimal health and production.

Armed with the operation’s custom feed recipes, farmers rely on the mixer scale system to accurately measure ingredients for their ration. The scale is a vital piece of equipment that consists of two main components: the load cell (or weigh bar) and the indicator. The load cell uses sensors to measure the amount of force or strain on a structure. The indicator interprets the measured strain and digitally displays it as a weight. The scale systems are accurate to +/- 1%.

Since the scale is vital to achieving the correct ration, it is surprising to learn that the components are often overlooked during routine maintenance, resulting in inaccurate weights being displayed and potentially less nutritious rations being fed out. Check power cables for wear and charge the battery if needed.

Make sure the scale is accurately weighing ingredients. Scale accuracy is based on the load cells used to weigh the mixer box. There are two basic scale errors: scale inconsistency and consistent weight addition or subtraction. Both can lead to over or underfeeding of ingredients, among other problems.

Accuracy can be tested by comparing the mixer scale’s recorded weight against the net weight (i.e. the loaded mixer’s weight less the weight of the empty mixer) as recorded on a certified truck scale. If the difference between these weights is more than 1%, contact your mixer dealer to determine if your load cells should be calibrated or replaced.

Measuring Milk Quality

Measuring Milk Quality

Keeping up with the current market is a challenge for everyone. Healthy cows and low SCCs (Somatic Cell Count) are a main focus point for dairy profitability. Milk quality is measured by SSC which is the number of cells found in an ml of milk. A sick animal will have a higher SCC because its body is fighting off an infection – most commonly mastitis. Mastitis is an inflammatory infection in the mammary gland (located in udders) of a cow. Not only does mastitis affect the quality of milk, but cows are less likely to produce their typical quantity as well since their body is working to fight an infection.

SCC < 100,000 = Healthy Cow

SCC 100,000-199,999 = Infected Cow (Mastitis)

SCC 200,000-399,999 = Cow with Moderate-Severe Mastitis Infection

SCC > 400,000 = Unfit for Human Consumption

Farmers are financially rewarded for low SCC. The higher the SCC, the less money rewarded for bulk milk, and sometimes penalty fees can be incurred. Higher SCC typically means a sick animal, which produces less milk.

Using best practices to keep SCC counts down is imperative in this economy. A few things to keep in mind are:

  • Frequently cleaning manure from alleys.
  • Clean stalls often to remove manure and apply fresh bedding to ensure udders have a clean, dry resting place.
  • Maintaining a good airflow in the barn helps to keep bedding and alleys dry.
  • Nutrition is key. Cows receiving proper nutrients will be healthier and can more readily fight off infection.
  • Practice good hygiene in the milking parlor. Ensure cows’ udders are clean and dry prior to milking. Prevent mastitis with appropriate pre- and post-dips. To prevent the spread of bacteria, always wear gloves while milking and do not reuse towels for multiple cows.
  • Do not over milk – it can lead to damaged teat ends, increasing the chance of infection.


 Bass, Tom. “Remember, Nutrition Can Impact Udder Health and SCC Too.” Progressive Dairy

 “Measuring Milk Quality.” Vet Student Research