As seasonal predictions suggest, on-farm water is going to be very topical in the next few months.
Generally, quantity and quality are the main concerns, and there are all sorts of livestock implications to having poor water. Landcare has been working with Australian National University’s Sustainable Farms group to look at aspects of farm dam management that can be improved, providing benefits for wildlife as well.
For the past 20 years, Bowna farmer Vince Ryan has been building dams with limited stock access. He’s had great success in maintaining water quality and retaining more water on the farm. The strategy of building steep-sided dams of 3-4ML capacity that are fenced into gully tree lots and controlling the stock access points to a fenced, gravelled section of the bank has been successful for them. The projects are a mix of self and Landcare assisted work. Mr Ryan has observed the design and its effect on cattle behaviour.
“They come in to drink but just don’t stay there and defecate in the water, and don’t camp on the dam banks,” he said. “The banks get the grass cover back and the stock aren’t causing erosion that just fills up the dam with sediment.
“Like everything on the farm, it needs maintenance but so does a normal dam that you might be cleaning out every 5-10 years. And the water levels are more constant through drought, and its good water.”
Poor water quality impacts directly on production by reducing appetite and weight gain. Controlled dam access is an alternative to fencing off dams and reticulating into troughs. It also has advantages for biodiversity.
“Fencing farm dams provides an opportunity to recreate missing wetland habitats,” Sustainable Farms project manager Mason Crane said. “Allowing the fringing grasses and rushes to grow dense and tall provides rare habitat for frogs, dragonflies, waterbirds and small native fish, while carefully planting shrubs and trees around the dam creates idea breeding and feeding habitats for birds and other wildlife.”
As water levels decline, it could be a time to think about a strategy to prepare the resource for the next dry.