Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1194 | September 2013
Agricultural droughts can occur anytime. The severity depends on rainfall, temperature, wind speed, humidity and the stage of plant growth. How long they last is very important to growers. To be prudent, livestock producers should plan for a 6 to 8 week drought.
Do not wait for a drought to make changes. Options become more limited when there are time constraints and equipment is in high demand. Both management and system changes should be considered where appropriate. Many management changes can be made with relatively little investment. Usually, system or infrastructural alterations dramatically change the way things are done. They also tend to result in a relatively large initial investment to the producer. They may also, however, result in lower cost of operation.
While management changes may have lower investment costs, make small changes and view the results before the complete adoption. The change may not work out. Don't make too many changes at once. If there is a problem, it will be difficult to sort out which change caused the problem. Below is a listing of suggestions to be considered. Some will probably fit into your operation with relative ease, while others you may discard outright. The listing is not prioritized, so evaluate each on its merits. Always look for added benefits from making changes; they can either save or make money. They ultimately can be the deciding factor for adoption. Some of particular significance are noted in the listing.
A number of livestock producers have participated in Soil and Water Conservation District programs that help design conservation management plans. Financial assistance for these may be available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Livestock producers are encouraged to consult with the agencies to determine how they can benefit operations.
There are many resources that can be accessed through web sites that can help businesses. They are useful not only for surviving a drought but also for answering many other technical questions. Research them as a starting point in the search for information. Such sites are listed below.
Water is an essential nutrient for livestock production. It is required for normal body systems, it buffers, it cleanses, it cools, and is also present in animal products such as meat and milk. When the weather is hot, an animal's requirement for water will increase. A lactating dairy cow requires on the average between 15 and 35 gallons of water per day; non-lactating dairy and beef cows require about 15 gallons per day; an adult horse will consume up to 15 gallons per day, which may increase 2 to 3 times when exercising; an adult sheep between 1 ½ and 3 gallons a day; adult swine from 3 to 5 gallons per day; and adult hens about a pint. A quick rule of thumb is that for every 2 pounds of dry feed intake animals should receive one gallon of water. This will vary with stress, weather conditions, heat, cold, disease, productive state, work, exercise, etc., the water and salt content of the feed, as well as the temperature and humidity indexes. Often the first sign that water consumption is inadequate is when animals stop eating. If animals are to reach maximum levels of production, then they must receive adequate amounts of water.
Other essential needs on a farm include water for cleaning, cooling, occasionally for washing animals, dust control, and some irrigation. Irrigation could be required to ensure proper pasture growth and forage production. Grazing animals receive water from pastures as well as energy, protein, and other nutrients for production.
The use of Best Management Practices or BMP's can help ensure that we make the most efficient use of water. This document describes some of these management practices.
As mentioned in the previous section, many uses of water on livestock farms are considered essential. Water for consumption is at the top of this list and is not an option for reduction without having impacts upon animal health and production.
There are many water uses on a farm. In the following sections is a list of suggested Best Management Practices for each of the listed species that will be helpful in reducing water use in the event of a drought.
The Rutgers University Cooperative Extension Bulletin, E296, Agricultural Management Practices for Commercial Equine Operations, is a great overview of management practices for equine operations and will be helpful in finding guidelines for water use. On most equine farms, most water use other than consumption is for bathing, cleaning and dust control. Below are some Best Management Practices that can help to conserve water supplies on horse farms:
Dairies use a lot of water for many different purposes. In addition to consumption, water is needed for cooling, cleaning and dust control. Very few dairies in New Jersey irrigate pastureland for grazing. There are a variety of cleaning needs on the dairy: 1) cleaning and disinfecting the milking system, 2) cleaning of the milking parlor and barn, and 3) cleaning of housing areas; some cleaning systems (flush) require water. Below are some Best Management Practices that can help to conserve water supplies on dairies:
Most beef and small ruminants (sheep and goats) in New Jersey are raised on pasture-based systems. These are lower maintenance than either dairy or equine. Most water use, other than consumption, will be related to grazing, if irrigation is practiced. There are several goat and sheep dairies in the state. For these, please see the items under dairy above. Below are some Best Management Practices that can help to conserve water supplies on beef and small ruminant farms:
There are not a lot of swine in New Jersey. Cooling during hot weather is an important need for swine. Overheating can result in the death of an animal. Below are some Best Management Practices that can help to conserve water supplies on swine farms:
Managing poultry is vastly different depending on the size of the operation. Large egg producers and broiler or turkey farms are different than back yard flocks or free-ranging chicken. Below are some Best Management Practices that can help to conserve water supplies when raising poultry:
It is important for livestock producers to adopt conservation practices that maintain clean water supplies for animal use. Do not wait for a drought to make changes. Livestock producers have a variety of low-cost options, such as those described above to reduce and/or conserve water use. Please remember that water for consumption is the most important need and is essential to maintain production.
|Water Use||Priority||Options for Reducing|
|Cooling||High||Higher efficiency cooling systems, misters vs. sprinklers|
|Cleaning||High||Maintain systems, use higher efficiency cleaning systems|
|Bathing||Medium||Reduce the level of bathing|
|Dust Control||High||Other products to reduce dust, oils, etc.|
|Irrigation||High||Fallow unneeded pastures|
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