Water requirements for livestock

Producers should complete a water budget to determine livestock water requirements over summer.

Water for livestock will become an increasingly important constraint for producers located in agricultural regions that only received decile 1-3 winter rainfall (1 April to 31 October, 2018). 

Producers need to know how much water is stored in farm dams and complete a water budget.

Knowing the expected daily water consumption of sheep and cattle in summer and autumn is required when reviewing the water supplies for livestock.   

Water for livestock needs to:

  • be palatable
  • be accessible to all animals
  • have no adverse effects. 


Palatability is dependent on salinity content (total dissolved salts) and testing a water sample can provide some answers.

If water quality is poor, livestock may drink less than they need or, rarely, may stop drinking altogether.

When animals drink less, they will eat less of the already poor quality dry pasture and lose condition.

Access to water by all animals

In mobs of more than 600 sheep, the tail of the mob may not drink enough water before the sheep move away.

To allow all animals access, the volume of water in the dam is critical so that all sheep in the mob are able to obtain their individual daily water consumption.  

The flow rate in troughs needs to be sufficient to keep water in the trough while all sheep drink.

Allow at least one metre of trough per 130 sheep.

Sheep do not like to walk too far to water

During summer, sheep do not like to travel more than 600 metres from a water source.

In large paddocks, two watering points or a moveable trough will allow better use of the entire paddock, reduce localised erosion risk and allow better animal performance.

This behavioural characteristic also becomes a potential welfare issue.

If relying on stubble in a feed budget for example, there needs to be a palatable water supply in the paddock.

If the only water supply is a dam in a neighbouring paddock, sheep will require additional supplementation to prevent excessive loss in condition.

Potential toxicoses

The risk from poisoning from salt or blue-green algae will increase as the summer progresses.

Now is the right time to also make sure your rams and ewes are healthy and in good condition in the lead up to joining and prepare weaned lambs to survive their first summer