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Water management - quantity and quality on your property

With the majority of the South East of NSW still affected by drought, water remains a key concern for many producers. Thankfully recent rain has brought some relief, but there are still cases where water, or a lack of water, is causing issues.

A comprehensive audit of the quality and quantity of water available on your property is essential, especially with predictions of continued intense conditions.

The quantity and quality of available water on your property are key determining factors for stock health, productivity and welfare and should help guide you in making stocking decisions in a timely manner.

Water quantity

Knowing how much water you have on you property can help you make stocking decisions. Dam capacity and fill can be calculated using the basic calculation:  Surface area x Depth x 0.4 = Volume in Mega Litres. Staff at your nearest Local Land Services office can help you with mapping and calculations for your property.

It is important to remember that stock water requirements will vary depending on species, age, reproductive status and environmental factors such as temperature, grazing conditions and water salinity (see table).

You should also think about the distance that stock have to travel to reach water. Large distances between feed and water sources will have a significant impact on water consumption. Stock may become dehydrated during hot days when long distances are travelled.

Stock water chart

Water Quality

The quality of the water on your property is just as important as the quantity. Poor quality water can impact productivity and lead to animal welfare concerns. There are several water palatability factors to keep in mind.

pH balance

Water palatability is generally determined by pH, salinity (mineral salts dissolved in the water), temperature, and suspended solids (dirt, algae, faeces etc).

Levels of these can be measured using a water test kit available from Local Land Services offices, but a rough guide to aim for is the 6.5 – 8.5 range.

Blue green algae

With low dam levels and high temperatures algal blooms can occur. Blue-green algae is of particular animal health importance. Signs are similar to that of salt poisoning but occur more quickly. Sudden death near water sources are usually the most common signs to look out for.

Grain poisoning

Care should be taken when feeding with high grain diets. In warm windy conditions water can become easily fouled. This fouling as mentioned previously can reduce water palatability. A reduction in water intake can lead to acidosis or grain poisoning.


The effects of salinity are dependent on species, breed, age, feed, ambient and water temperature, humidity, and mineral content. In general sheep are most resistant to the effects of salinity followed by horses and pigs, beef cattle and lastly dairy cattle.

High levels of salt in water will affect water intake and in extreme cases can lead to salt poisoning. Animals will appear unwell with a lack of appetite and reluctance to drink and diarrhoea.

This will be followed by increased urination initially then small amounts of concentrated urine as the body attempts to remove excess sodium and chlorine.

We encourage all producers to undertake a water audit, covering both quantity and quality, on their properties. The results can help you plan to get the most out of the months ahead.

For assistance with anything mentioned in this article contact your nearest Local Land Services office on 1300 795 299.

Information on water requirements for livestock and stocktaking water supply on your property can be found in DPI Primefacts 326, 533 and 269.


Media contact: Dave Michael, South East Local Land Services, 0418 513 880