Small stock production: Affordable water troughs for small stock

Dave Midgley shares ideas on how to construct your own water troughs based on what he has seen over many years of visiting farms.

Farmers often tend to focus on providing quality feed and overlook the importance of water in a ruminant diet. With sheep, the voluntary consumption of water is two to three times the intake of dry matter. The daily water intake of sheep can be 12 times greater in summer than in winter. When shade is provided, goats consume less water than sheep but when shade is absent, goats drink more water than sheep.

Enough good-quality water is needed to regulate body temperature, reproduction, growth, lactation, digestion, lubrication of joints, eyesight, and as a cleansing agent to wash out waste products via the kidneys.

Dr Dave Midgley, stock health expert and farmer, says farmers should ensure that water quality is always optimal. All water troughs should be cleaned frequently and small stock should never drink dirty or contaminated water.

Dirty water can lead to the spreading of disease, if animals drink from the same trough. Sick animals should be isolated from the trough and it must be cleaned and disinfected.

Remove any dead animals or birds from water troughs as these can cause botulism, a serious paralytic illness.

Midgley says that biological water troughs are among the most innovative water troughs he’s ever seen. This farmer built a round concrete structure and placed water grasses in the trough. The grasses serve as a self-cleaning filter and keep the water cool on hot days. Plants have the ability to clear water of impurities and bacteria, thereby improving water quality.

Midgley advises farmers to place a layer of stones around the trough to avoid animals from trampling in water and mud while drinking. Stones also keep the area around the trough dry.

Biological water troughs

A half-drum water trough is easy to construct from a storage drum cut in half. Beware of the sharp edges on the drum as this can injure animals. Midgley suggests that farmers cut a hosepipe lengthways and secure it to the sharp edges of the drum to protect sheep from injuries. This water trough doesn’t have a water inlet, so farmers must ensure that the drum is filled at all times.

One of the drawbacks of this water trough is that animals can tip it over easily.

Moist conditions (which can also be caused by leaking troughs) can place sheep and goat at risk for conditions such as foot rot. Foot rot is caused by bacteria and often occurs in animals that graze on wet ground, or live in crowded, damp housing.

Animals won’t die from this condition, but farmers will suffer economic losses as infected animals won’t be able to walk to obtain feed, thereby suffering poor growth, loss of condition and production.

A half-drumwater trough

The benefit of these plastic drums is that they fill up automatically as the water level drops. Cut a 20-litre plastic drum in half and attach a hosepipe or water source to the drum inlet.

Fit a ball valve (a device that regulates water flow through a pipe and is similar to a valve operated by a ball floating in a toilet cistern) to the inlet pipe. This device is affordable and the farmer can be sure that there is always a supply of water in the drum.

Midgley advises farmers to use a white drum, because a black drum will heat up more quickly in the sun, warming the water. This water trough is easy to clean and move around between camps.

Plastic drum

Farmers can also mount the water trough permanently, by attaching two brackets with bolts to a sturdy vertical pole in the feeding area.

Be aware of feed soiling water troughs, because it can cause concentrates in the water to become fermented, leaving an acid smell and taste. This can cause animals to stop drinking the water.

To avoid this, place the water troughs away from the feeding area, especially in feedlots or intensive systems.

Water troughs placed away from the feeding area

Are your stock getting enough water?

Midgley says if you arrive at a water trough, thirsty animals will crowd around the area, or they will frequently visit the empty trough. This is an indication that your animals are thirsty.

Look out for these signs of dehydration:

  • Tightening of the skin
  • Weight loss
  • Dry nose and gums
  • Sunken eyes

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