Smart water use on farm

Smart water use on farm

18 October 2018

Water supply is a vital component of a farm and making sure systems are working efficiently can save water, time and money. The following tips from DairyNZ will help identify opportunities to reduce water use and improve efficiency.

Farm reticulation system

Older poor-quality water lines and connections are more likely to split and leak.

  • Identify problem areas and mark locations of weak spots on a farm map.
  • Gradually upgrade older sections to help prevent water loss.
  • Replace ill-fitting connections to decrease the risk of leaks.
  • Bring the problem areas to the attention of everyone working on the farm.

Water lines that are near the surface, run under races or over drains are particularly at risk of damage. Mark the locations of these weak spots on a map.

  • Bury the lines deeper to protect them.
  • If renewing or replacing lines, bury them alongside a fence to give added protection.
  • To prevent problems where water lines must go under races, place them inside a larger rigid pipe for protection.
  • Where lines cross drains, strap them securely to the bottom side of a pipe or post.
  • Bring these water lines to the attention of everyone working on the farm.

Regular check of troughs

Having a check and maintenance system for water troughs that staff are familiar with is an important preventative measure for leaks.

  • Use time bringing in the cows to look out for anything on the farm that might need attention, such as overflowing or empty water troughs.
  • Tilting troughs slightly toward the race will make it easier to spot water loss on the drive by.
  • Carrying spare parts and tools on the farm bike allows for the immediate repair of simple problems.
  • Schedule in regular trough maintenance. Include replacing troublesome ballcocks and checking balls, strings, arms and pins. Have a system to record and sign off these checks.

Map your farm system

A farm map can be used to outline details of the water system, highlight areas prone to leaks and losses, identify where improvements could be made and where meters should be/are installed.

Farm water maps are useful for relief milkers and staff so problems can be solved when you are off the farm.

Details should include:

Water supply

  • Main source of supply
  • Other sources of water e.g. roof rainwater tank
  • Any water treatment systems
  • Number of water meters (if any) and location

Reticulation and storage

  • Type of water lines (alkathene, PVC, galvanized, etc.)
  • Locations of any isolation valves
  • Water lines buried, on the surface, or both
  • Storage tank(s) and capacity
  • Alert system (e.g. pilot light, pressure gauge) to detect possible water loss

Farm dairy

  • Water cylinder/CIP drum filling automated or manual
  • Plate cooler water recycled or once through
  • Automated yard cleaning system or hosing
  • Where equipment is kept to fix leaks, or replace


Include on your map an indication of what is a fix and what is to be replaced when it breaks down. This will help to spread the cost of upgrades over a manageable timeframe. Find out how your farm’s water use compares to others in your region and throughout New Zealand by using DairyNZ’s online Water Use Calculator

It is estimated that 26% of stock drinking water is lost as leakage. This wastes valuable water, causes areas of mud and flooding and incurs extra pumping costs. Having leak detection systems in place and a process to deal with leaks helps to manage them and reduce these effects.

Leaks can vary in the rate of water loss. Fast leaks are often noticed immediately and fixed quickly while small leaks can often go undetected for a long time.

Using a water meter to detect leaks With a water meter, water use can be monitored when water should not be flowing e.g. at night when cows are not drinking. If water is flowing, then the dials should be turning slowly and it is likely there is a leak. Areas of the farm can then be turned off with isolation valves, to work out where the leaks are.

When a data logger and telemetry is installed, finding slow leaks is much easier. Night time water use over a period can be monitored and if water use is higher than it should be, then it may be due to leaks. If houses are connected to the stock drinking water line they may use water at night. Areas of the farm that the cows are not in can be turned off with isolation valves over successive nights to work out where the leak is. The nightly recorded water use can be checked to see if the water use has decreased.

Article supplied by DairyNZ