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Sustainable water for livestock - WU0132

Water is an essential nutrient which is involved in all basic physiological functions of the body. However, it is important to note that water, relative to other nutrients, is consumed in considerably larger quantities. Therefore, water availability and quality are extremely important for animal health and productivity. Considering that water is consumed in such large quantities, there is an increased risk that water contaminants could reach a level that may be harmful to the animal and may cause disease or leave residues harmful to those consuming products of animal origin. Rainwater harvesting has been practiced in arid or semi-arid climates for many centuries (AbdelKhaleq, R.A., Alhaj Ahmed, I., 2007) but only recently have there been published studies on the microbiological and chemical contamination of rainwater, and the effects of local atmospheric conditions and sources of airborne contamination.

In their Future Water Strategy (2008), Defra have considered the long term requirements of including climate change adaptation, and other pressures associated with maintaining adequate low summer flows and water quality objectives, in the planning and management of future water policy. Climate change models (such as the latest UKCIP09 predictions) typically predict drier summers and wetter winters, and an increase in the frequency of more extreme events. These changes will impact on all sectors of agriculture, including livestock farmers who in the future are likely to face greater restrictions on water abstractions (both in terms of total volumes, and timings).

Currently some farmers give livestock direct access to water courses for drinking, but these supplies may be restricted in the future as a result of the Water Framework Directive and associated daughter directives requiring more stringent water quality standards. The complete or partial fencing off of riverbanks will help control livestock access to these water courses, reducing bank erosion of sediment, together with manure and urine inputs into such water bodies, and the associated pathogenic load. Alternative water provision will need to be provided for such livestock, in a manner which is sustainable and minimises impacts on the environment (e.g. by maintaining summer flows in rivers). In addition to the drinking water which all livestock require, livestock farms also have a significant requirement for non-potable water used for washing down buildings and equipment (e.g. milking parlours, farmyard hard standings) and for refrigerating milk.

A study by King et al (2006) found that livestock rearing in England accounted for 119 M m3 year-1. Cattle were found to use the most water, with a total requirement of c. 82 million m3, followed by sheep, at 17 million m3, poultry at 12 million m3 and pigs at c. 8 million m3. The study showed that the washing water requirements were relatively low compared with the volumes required for drinking. Expressed as a percentage of total water, drinking water requirements were 79% for dairy cattle, 87-99% for different categories of pigs, >99% for sheep and 96-99% for poultry, respectively.

Given the volumes involved in livestock farming, there is therefore a need to identify alternative sources and methods of providing both drinking water, and non potable water to livestock farmers. This Defra project will investigate sustainable ways of providing livestock with natural sources of quality potable water as an alternative to mains water. The proposed work includes novel ways of sustainably sourcing, storing, purifying, distributing and using water from all sources, as well as determining the minimum acceptable quality of water which can be used as drinking water for livestock.

For grazing animals, for example, a number of solutions are available including fencing off watercourses and installing piped mains water to troughs or pasture pumps. Providing this type of infrastructure, where there has been none previously, can be expensive where large areas of land are involved, but may be necessary if bank erosion and water contamination by livestock are to be avoided. On some farm types, roof water can be collected, purified and stored for use by livestock, thereby reducing consumption of and reliance on piped mains water. Water used for milk pre-cooling on dairy farms can also be stored then re-directed to livestock water troughs. This approach can reduce mains water requirements, whilst simultaneously providing water at a slightly higher temperature than mains water (which may be a benefit in the winter months). This project will review such methods, examine specific case study examples in detail, and evaluate the cost-effectiveness, practicality and robustness of a range of alternative strategies covering a range of livestock farm types. Such activities will help constrain costs, increase water security, and encourage more sustainable provision of water for livestock.
7. (b) Objectives

The objectives of this research are as follows:

1. Build on the previous work (Sustainable Water Management programme: Defra projects WU0101 and WU0123) to determine, by reviewing available evidence, existing methods for supplying livestock with natural water. Including an analysis of:

a. Current usage of drinking and service water by different livestock production systems (litres/head) and the potential for innovation in different livestock sectors (building upon the findings of WU0101
b. Extent of the uptake and use by livestock farmers of existing options
c. Reliability of supply
d. Environmental sustainability
e. Susceptibility to climate change and changes in legislation
f. Potential for wider application (building on WU0123)

2. Develop novel ways of harvesting, storing, purifying, delivering and recycling natural water that is fit to drink to cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry on a whole farm basis.

3. Determine the costs of various options for harvesting, storing, purifying, delivering and recycling natural water

4. Determine the hygiene and legal issues likely to arise, the quality of rainwater harvested from a range of natural sources and the minimum acceptable quality of natural sources of drinking water for livestock.

5. Develop and execute appropriate knowledge transfer to livestock farmers and/or their representatives.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : WU0132 Sustainable Water for Livestock Final report   (407k)
• ANX - Annex : WU0132 Sustainable Water for Livestock Final report Appendices 1-4   (3164k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2010

To: 2012

Cost: £98,730
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Sustainable Farming and Food Science              
Water Quality and Use              
Water Use