Home' Target 100 : Water Contents Water efficiency on the land
WATER EffICIENCY IN THE pAddoCk
Australia’s unpredictable rain patterns and extended periods of drought mean efficient water management is essential for
cattle and sheep farmers. Farmers rely heavily on water-efficient grazing practices to make the most of the water available.
Through grazing management strategies, farmers manage the frequency and intensity of grazing to make the best use of
their pastures – balancing the needs of the grazing animal, the pasture and the environment.
WATER – AN EssENTIAL REsoURCE
As with humans, in on-farm livestock production, the single biggest use of water is for drinking by the animals. Water
makes up 60%–70% of the body weight of cattle and sheep, and is essential for maintaining their physiological function.
Water is also an essential resource for establishing and maintaining healthy pastures for Australia’s cattle and
sheep to graze.
Cattle and sheep farmers do many things to influence the water balance in their grazing systems. Healthy soils and adequate
nutrients are two of the basic elements of any successful grazing system. Healthy soils drive higher pasture productivity and
benefit the environment, through more efficient use of water and nutrients in the paddock, and lower risk of run-off, erosion
and deep drainage.
A comprehensive survey of the environmental practices of Australian cattle and sheep farmers in 2010 found that farmers
are increasingly monitoring and managing their water use:
n 55% of farmers had installed additional watering points to replace water for stock from natural watercourses, with 61% of
Queensland producers installing water points.
n 86% of farmers monitored the level of water tables on their properties.
The cattle and sheep industry is investing in research to help the industry become more water-efficient, using levies paid by
individual cattle and sheep farmers.
Research topics include: improving water use in grazing systems; addressing soil erosion; dry-land salinity and soil
acidification; and improving the drought tolerance of plant species through DNA technology. These are outlined below.
REsEARCH pRoJECT: THE WATER CYCLE ANd gRAzINg LANds
Poor land condition resulting from unsustainable grazing practices can reduce farm profitability and increase water, sediment
and associated nutrient loads flowing from properties and catchments into downstream ecosystems, a study has found.
This project builds on a 10-year field study evaluating the impact of grazing practices on a 13 km2 sub-catchment of
the Burdekin River, Queensland, which flows to the Great Barrier Reef. This research will help clarify how better grazing
management, on country starting in very poor condition, can progressively reduce run-off, sediment and nutrient loads.
CsIRo WATER fooTpRINTINg TooL
To gain a better understanding of water used in Australian beef and lamb production, a water footprinting project is being
undertaken by Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO (see Article 2 in the Explain section, p24). This project is looking
at the relative values of water, depending on where it is accessed from and whether the water used is diverted from other
needs or uses, such as human consumption.
WATER EffICIENCY IN fEEdLoTs
There are about 600 accredited feedlots in Australia. They are generally located near grass-fed cattle farms and grain
supplies, and have access to a supply of reliable, affordable and good-quality water.
Of the various uses for water on feedlots, drinking water for cattle is the most significant, with an average of 50–60 L
consumed per head each day.
Other water used on feedlots is for feed processing, cattle wash-down, effluent management, general cleaning and
operation of staff and office amenities.
soURCEs of WATER
The most recent survey by the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) found that 29% of grain-fed cattle farms across
New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria are solely dependent on surface water, and 49% dependent on groundwater,
with the remaining 22% able to access both.
Surface water comes from rivers, lakes and dams, while groundwater is from aquifers beneath the ground. Groundwater
is often pressurised and therefore reaches the surface of its own accord once holes (bores) are drilled into the aquifer.
Windmills and electric pumps are also used to access groundwater.
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