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Pasture drinking advice

Even though the needs of cattle are partially met by the consumption of water-rich grass, the amount of water consumed can be very high due to the sometimes high temperatures during this period of the year. Besides the other common factors responsible for variation (live weight, the amount of food consumed, production level), the water consumption on pasture depends in particular on the dry-matter content of the grass, the presence of shady areas, the temperature and the rainfall.

A guaranteed supply of high-quality water in sufficient quantities during the entire grazing season is therefore vitally important for the well-being and productivity of breeding animals. However, direct access of the herd to natural pools and watercourses is a source of sanitary and environmental problems. Furthermore, hauling water becomes more and more expensive.

Average daily water consumption of animals on pasture

Cattle on pasture generally goes drinking 2 to 5 times a day, but this can increase up to more than 10 times a day. Dairy cows have the tendency to go drinking more often than nursing cows and the drinking frequency increases with the rise of the temperature and the proximity of the water access point.

for drinking points on pasture

Every drinking solution has its advantages and limitations.

To determine the system most suitable for your needs and the environment, you should take several criteria into account:

  • the characteristics of the pasture (dimensions, topography and remoteness)
  • the herd’s water needs (depending on the type of livestock, the number of animals and their physiological state)
  • the technical specifications of each solution
  • the desirable investment level
  • the working habits of the breeder
  • the technical skills of the breeder (installation and maintenance).

In general, it is preferable to slightly overdimension the drinking system in order to guarantee the water supply, to avoid too long waiting times and crowding, even in extreme conditions. We recommend:

  • placing the troughs at a distance of some ten metres from each other to reduce competition among the animals
  • bringing in the material before the winter in flood  risk areas
  • choosing the right hose diameter and providing a drain system for in winter
  • fastening the troughs to the ground so the animals cannot move them when empty

How to choose the location of the drinkers
And how to dimension the system volume / flow rate / access

Ideally, the maximum distance between the drinking point and the farthest end of the pasture is 200 m. Especially dairy herds visit the remote areas of the pasture less frequently when the distance is beyond 400 m. Moreover, during very warm periods (> 28 C°), instead of moving around the fields, they gather in the shady areas and don’t go drinking if the drinking point is too far away. However, it is not advisable to install the drinker in the shade in order to avoid pushing and monopolisation by the dominant animals. For the same reason, you should absolutely avoid placing the drinker in a dead end area.

It has been proven that cattle prefer to drink from large troughs (500 litres) rather than from small ones (300 litres) and that they consume up to 20% more water. It is preferable to multiply the number of drinkers rather than increase the volume of just one and to install them at a distance of some ten metres from each other to reduce pushing. The flow rate of the drinker shall be sufficient to avoid that the animals empty it completely, move it around or damage the connections. A low flow rate can be compensated by increasing the volume of the available water.

When the drinkers are installed of distance close to the grazing area the animals go to drink regulary most of the time of their own or in small groups of two or three. 

Milking Robot or rotational grazing system

Milking Robot: Allow drinking on pasture

Several experiments carried out in this field show that allowing cows exclusively access to water indoors or both outdoors and indoors gives the same production performance. On the other hand, when cows have a drinker in their pasture, they spend more time grazing and less time moving to the building and back. For these different reasons and for the well-being of the dairy cows, LA BUVETTE recommends to always give them access to drinking points on pasture even when they have to go to a milking robot.

Providing water in rotational grazing system

A well-organised water provision in a rotational grazing system allows to optimise the access to the water while limiting the investment costs. It would be a mistake to use only one water point placed in a narrow corridor linking several parcels. This lay-out favours competition and increases the distance the animals have to walk to go drinking.

  • For small herds (up to 20 heads of cattle): A good solution would be to move a small trough together with the animals. A model with double access and high flow  rate (30 l/min) such as the PREBAC 70 (p. 46) is perfectly suited. It should preferably be placed at mid-length of the pasture. In this case, one water supply line with shut-off valve is necessary for each pasture.
  • For larger herds: One big circular drinking trough could be placed in the centre of a drinking area (sufficiently spacious to avoid pushing) situated at the junction between 4 parcels. This solution requires only one water supply.

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