Water and Rotational Grazing

Water is the most important nutrient for livestock. Dry matter intake is directly related to water intake; the less an animal drinks, the less feed it will consume. Access to water is an essential component for rotational grazing systems. Water and water location influence dry matter intake, average daily gains, pasture utilization and nutrient distribution from manure and urine.

The rumen of cattle is a fermentation vat on legs, with a capacity of 40 gallons or more in mature cows. Adequate water is essential for the microbes in the rumen to digest the fiber in forages.

Water placement and access is key to a successful rotational grazing system. Water location, especially distance to water drives dry matter intake, improves forage utilization and helps manure and urine to be more evenly distributed.

Water location has a bigger influence on rotational grazing systems than you might realize. Ideally water should be in every paddock and animals should not have to walk more than 800 feet to drink.

Research at the Forage Systems Research Center in Missouri measured the utilization of forage within a paddock at different distances from water. Pasture utilization was very high at less than 200 feet to water, fairly uniform from 200 to 800 feet, and less at further distances. Water location and grazing intensity will greatly influence nutrient distribution in pastures. In another Missouri study, manure piles were concentrated near water and shade, and few were deposited further than about 700 feet from water, except as influenced by shade.

In summary, having well-distributed water points in a grazing system will result in more uniform and increased percentage forage utilization as well as better distribution of mature and urine. ~ Dr. Jimmy Henning, for Farmer’s Pride.