Dairy water care saves thousands

Water isn’t always a cheap and plentiful resource and dairy farmers could save money through more efficient use and recycling

Dairy farmers could save thousands of pounds a year through more efficient water use, while also reducing their impact on the environment, according to DairyCo research.

A DairyCo project using Promar farm data shows that mains water supply costs an average of £31 a cow each year, but this can rise to more than £100 a cow on some units, or could even be higher depending on which company you get your mains water from. Water disposal charges are similarly expensive, often costing as much or more than mains water supply. With water prices running above inflation, and climate change having an impact on rainfall, it is clear that more efficient water use can yield significant benefits.

In 2008 the dairy industry committed itself to reducing water use on dairy farms, as part of the Milk Roadmap, chaired by DairyCo Chairman Tim Bennett. This ambitious document set out wide-reaching targets to reduce the industry’s environmental impact, and dairy farmers are doing extremely well in meeting the challenge, says Karen Wonnacott, research and development manager at DairyCo.

Last year, DairyCo undertook a survey of farmers’ water use, and discovered that 73% had made changes to their management of clean water in the preceding 24 months, with 40% intending to make changes to improve water efficiency this year. An encouraging 79% already checked their water points for leaks, but only 31% were aware of their annual dairy-related water use.

“There are many simple things farmers can do to reduce water use, and, therefore, make significant cost savings,” says Dr Wonnacott. “Drinking water for cows typically makes up 50%-75% of water use on dairy farms, and clean water supply is essential for healthy, high yielding cows. However, those on dry diets will need to drink almost double that of cows on a wetter, silage-based ration.”

Plate coolers are the second heaviest consumer of water, accounting for a quarter of dairy farms’ water use. About 40% of producers surveyed are now re-using water from their plate cooler, for purposes such as external washing down of the parlour or cow drinking water.

Farmers also need to look at the source of their water, she adds. Mains water typically costs £1.26/cu m, compared with 15-40p for water abstracted from a borehole or river. Direct drinking from a river can be costed at 0-15p/cu m, while harvested rainwater ranges from 15-40p – potentially saving upwards of £10,000 a year.

Of the farmers surveyed, some 21% have recently installed rainwater harvesting technology, with a further 18% planning to do so during 2010. “With the need to use and conserve water, and with increasing pressure on slurry storage capacity, a move towards more efficient farming, collection and re-use of rainwater will be extremely valuable,” says Dr Wonnacott.

Waste water and rain water can easily be collected and stored in an old bulk tank or milk tanker, and re-used for external washing down or footbathing. “Ensure your gutters and down pipes are clear, and consider roofing over yard areas to collect the clean water and prevent it from entering your slurry store.”

Another option to reduce water use is to regularly check pipes for leaks. “Any water reused is a double saving; you save on the cost of purchase, typically £1.26/cu m, and on disposal costs of about £1.13/cu m. An average dairy farm reusing all of its dairy and bulk tank washings could save £668/year.”

Reducing water hose pressure can also yield big savings. “There is a wide range in parlour wash-down use from 5 to 50 litres a cow a day. This can have a big impact on water costs,” says Dr Wonnacott. “Fit a trigger on the end of your hose, or opt for a pressure washer, which use 8-12 litres of water a minute, compared with a volume hose at 80-150 litres a minute.”

DairyCo plans to undertake a second water use survey later this year, to benchmark farmers’ progress against the original report and recruit a wider base of contributors to improve data quality. “We already know the industry is moving well towards its Milk Roadmap targets on water use efficiency. But the more farmers can do to reduce water use the more it benefits their bottom line and the environment on which their business relies.”

For more information on the Water Survey, or to order your free booklet on Effective Use of Water on Dairy Farms, contact DairyCo on 02476 478 695.

• Dairy farmers wanting to learn more about water conservation and rainwater harvesting should visit the housing and storage exhibition at this year’s Dairy Event and Livestock Show at the NEC, Birmingham on Tuesday 7 September and Wednesday 8 September. For more information go to www.fwi.co.uk/dels2010

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