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Drinking Water: An overlooked threat to farm biosecurity

Of the many steps Australian farmers take to improve the biosecurity of their farms, one significant threat is often not taken seriously enough. The provision of safe, clean drinking water is hugely important to the prosperity of any livestock farm. The costs, in terms of productivity losses and mortality, of not doing so can be astronomical.

A lot of farmers think their water will be fine either due to the source supplying the farm, the species they are growing, or some other factor. But let’s take a quick look at just a few of the risks associated with the common sources of water used in livestock production:

Open, Flowing Water (Rivers, Creeks and Channels)

This one probably won’t come as a huge surprise, but there are plenty of nasties that can get into your herd or flock if your drinking water is coming in from a River or channel. A few examples include:

  • Pathogenic Bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, Pasteurella and Listeria.
  • Certain viruses (especially in Poultry) due to contamination from water fowl and other animals outside your farm.
  • Algae (when conditions allow)
  • Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and other Protozoa

Beyond the risks listed above, this water could also be depositing unsafe levels of either toxic metals (dangerous to the stock) or high levels of non-bioavailable minerals (potentially clogging up your pipes in the form of mineral scale).

Bore Water

A lot of people think that, apart from salinity and perhaps metal toxicity, bore water is always safe. This really isn’t the case. A couple of specific risks related to bore water are:

  • E. coli (and other Enterobacteria) can still contaminate this water. It is possible for contaminated fecal matter from livestock or wildlife to leech through the soil and contaminate the ground water. This is most common in regions with high stocking densities on open pasture, but it’s always worth checking if you plan on using bore water for livestock.
  • Nitrates and Nitrites can be found in bore water and can be extremely toxic (especially to ruminants)
  • Salinity can be an issue, although salinity is often routinely monitored by farms drawing water from a bore.

Salinity, Mineral content and Metal toxicity are also potential risks with bore water.

Town Water/Water Mains

If you are using mains drinking water for your livestock, you shouldn’t see a lot of these nasties coming into your farm through the water. However, there are a couple of additional ‘points-of-interest’ that we need to talk about.

Water Storage

Once your water comes into the farm, how do you store it? Most farmers will either use tanks or, more commonly, dams. In either case there is some level of contamination risk, but in the case of dams:

  • Bacterial contamination (E. coli, Salmonella, etc.) from wild birds and other wildlife.
  • Viruses, especially Avian Influenza and Infectious Bronchitis in Poultry.
  • Algae, especially if water levels are kept low.

Finally, even if you’re lucky enough to have avoided serious contamination right up to your dam, the water still has to (in many cases) be fed out to your animals.

Water Lines

Over time, water lines can build up high levels of mineral scale and biofilm. These have a number of negative effects:

  1. Mineral Scales, if left unchecked, can literally clog the pipes, reducing water flow and potentially restricting water flow to your stock.
  2. Biofilm are basically a slime made up of…pathogenic bacteria. These bacteria grow and replicate in the pipes, potentially infecting every single drop of water that flows through to your animals.

What can I do about it?

Now you know all of the potential risks that could be coming into your farm (or growing inside of it), you might be wondering what you can do about it. There is a really simple first step that you can take. Water Testing is available from many labs around Australia and is quite affordable. With a simple test from 3 – 4 different points in your farm, you can get a clear picture of what is present in your water.

We organize these tests regularly for our customers and clients across Australia and would be happy to help you out. If you’re ready to take a serious look at your water hygiene call us on (03) 5448 8942

Useful Resources on Livestock Drinking Water

Managing Farm Water – Agriculture VIC

Water Quality for Livestock – Agriculture and Food WA

Water Quality – MLA (article focused on feedlots, but still very relevant)

National Water Biosecurity Guidelines (Poultry) – Agriculture AUS

Useful Products related to Drinking Water