Livestock water requirements and water budgeting for south-west Western Australia

Page last updated: Monday, 9 January 2023 - 2:32pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Adequate supplies of good quality stock water are just as important as feed supplies during summer, a period when feed and water quantity and quality are at their lowest in the agricultural areas of Western Australia.

Information on this page will help livestock owners to calculate a water budget – before problems develop – to complement a feed budget.

Water quality

Good quality livestock water has:

  • salinity within the acceptable range for the animal type and condition
  • water pH between about 6.5 (acid) and 8.5 (alkaline)
  • freedom from toxic elements and chemicals
  • no contamination with toxic algae or putrid materials
  • temperature below the body temeprature of livestock (the cooler the better in summer).

See water quality for livestock for more detail.

Managing livestock water requirements

Livestock on green feed in winter need very little additional water, but it should be available at all times.

If you have enough feed to carry livestock through the dry period, these are the steps to manage water supplies:

  • Estimate the daily water requirements for the class of livestock in the period (Tables 1, 2).
  • Estimate your water supply – quantity and quality.
  • Construct or maintain suitable watering points.

If either the water supply or feed is less than required by the livestock to be carried through summer, then you need to destock (sell, agist or move) before animal welfare becomes a problem.

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Livestock classes and water requirements

Water consumption is affected by:

  • feed type and quality
  • livestock breed, class and age
  • weather conditions
  • available shelter
  • water quality.

Lactating and pregnant animals can need up to twice as much water as dry animals, while older animals have a higher water requirement compared with young stock.

High-producing milking cows can consume up to 200 L/day of water, while sheep can drink 40% more during summer than winter.

In extreme temperatures sheep and cattle can consume up to 80% more water but will avoid warm water, so it is important to bury pipelines deep enough to keep the lines cool, and to shade water troughs.

We recommend that owners plan for the worst conditions (see maximum summer demand in Table 1), and for the longest experienced dry spell. These figures are guides only, and will vary according to your situation.

Table 1 Water requirements for various classess of livestock
Livestock type Long term average demand (L/day) Maximum summer demand (L/day)
8–10 16–25
(dry, adult)
4 8–10
(<12 months)
2–3 5–6
80 160
(adult, dry)
50 100
Cattle on saltbush
(adult, dry)
70 140
25 50
20 35–40
(adult, dry)
10 20
5 10
90 150
Horses (adult, dry) 45 70
Horses (<12 months) 20 40
7 14
Sheep on improved pasture
(adult, dry)
5 10
Sheep on saltbush
(adult, dry)
8 12
2.5 5

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Table 2 The daily water requirements for pigs vary according to their age
Age of pig Daily water requirements
Lactating sow 24–45L/day
Dry sow and boar 12–15L/day
Finisher 9–12L/day
Grower 5–7L/day
Weaner 3–5L/day

Water sources

Water for stock can come from four main sources:

Large farms usually use farm dams (excavated tanks); small properties are often limited to rainwater and scheme water, and occassionally bores.

Water source and quality

Farm dams and groundwater sources are highly variable in salt content, and must be tested before supplying to livestock. See Water quality for livestock for more information about salinity and other water quality problems, and about water testing. We recommend testing livestock water in spring and then several times over summer and autumn. 

Water resource restrictions

Landowners have rights in common law to use water flowing across their property for domestic and stock purposes and to water up to 2 hectares of garden, provided this use does not restrict the access of other landowners to water that would normally flow through to them.

Artesian wells require a licence from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation: a 26D licence is issued under the provisions of Section 26D of the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914 to construct or alter wells. A 26D licence is required to commence, construct, enlarge, deepen or alter an artesian well [26A(1)].

Livestock with direct access to dams and natural watercourses can cause considerable damage to the surrounding environment and water quality, and there may be regulations that apply to this. The safest option is to reticulate water supplies and provide water troughs, and protect dams and natural water sources.

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Watering points

Open dams, seeps, or waterways

We recommend that you do not allow direct livestock access to these water sources, as there are several risks:

  • degradation of the soil and vegetation around the water source
  • possible stock injury or death in muddy, low water conditions
  • contamination of the water source from livestock wastes.

Troughs for livestock water

We recommend troughs for livestock watering, as they are movable, can easily be monitored, and prevent livestock causing damage to natural watercourses and farm dams.

  • For sheep and small grazers: allow at least one metre of trough with access to both sides per 100 sheep; trough storage should be about 100 L per metre of trough; flow rate into the trough will need to be about 1 L/sec per 300 sheep.
  • Trough design for cattle and large grazers:
  • Cloudy water is not a problem to livestock, but muddy water may block valves and gradually block pipes or troughs.
  • Stock tend to avoid warm water in hot weather: shade troughs where possible, and bury all water pipes to troughs. Where pipes are on the surface, we recommend using holding tanks to supply the trough. Tanks will need to have at least a 2 m fall to the trough to get sufficient flow.
  • Grazing sheep need to be within about 500–600 m of a watering point in the same paddock when feed is dry: this is particularly important for weaner sheep on lupin stubbles or on other high protein diets. Grazing cattle may need to be within 1 km of a watering point.
  • Large paddocks may need 2 or more watering points. Moveable troughs will allow better use of the entire paddock, reduce localised erosion risk and allow better animal performance.
  • Sheep not used to water troughs may take time to learn to drink from them. Young sheep are less adept at finding water, so always push them onto water in a new paddock.

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Calculating available livestock water

You need to know the total available volume of water, and the peak delivery rate when demand is highest.

Follow the steps in calculating dam water volume to get the dam water volume.

Contact information

Gerard Smith
+61 (0)8 9368 3366