Meet Australian cattle & sheep farmers, discover 100 research projects and learn more about what is important to the sustainability of the industry

Water use in the paddock

The Issues

Producing beef and lamb requires large amounts of water, from the water consumed by animals on farm and in feedlots through to the water required for processing.

Figures associated with the amount of water to produce beef and lamb are highly variable, ranging from 100L to 100,000L per kilogram of finished product.  Calculations vary due to differing methodologies of measurement.

The Facts

  • It takes between 103 to 540 litres of water to produce a kilogram of red meat, according to a study by The University of New South Wales
  • Peer-reviewed research, published in Agricultural Systems, recently quantified the environmental impacts of Australian beef production, using Life-cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • One of the most notable results in beef production included a 65% reduction in consumptive water use, from 1465 litres/ kg of liveweight to 515 litres / kg of liveweight (over the last 30 years, from 1981-20110)
  • Drinking water used by animals is the most obvious demand for water related to on-farm livestock production
  • Water represents 60 to 70 per cent of the body weight of cattle and sheep, and is essential for maintaining their health
  • Life-cycle assessment (LCA) studies have measured the amount of ‘blue water’ it takes to produce beef, with much of the drinking water requirements for cattle coming from sources such as small farm dams and localised creeks that could not be used for human purposes.
  • The suggestion that it can take between 50,000 and 100,000 litres to produce a kilogram of red meat is an inappropriate measure to the production of red meat that does not take into account the fact that most of the water ends up in waterways, is used by trees and plants and in pastures not grazed by cattle. These calculations therefore attribute all rain that falls on a property to beef production, whereby the water is clearly being used for other purposes, such as supporting ecosystems.

Blue Water

Green Water

Water used from dams, rivers, bores and town water supplies that would otherwise may have been available for human purposes.

Some blue water consumed by livestock is often not able to be used for human purposes. This includes small purpose built farm dams and localised creeks.

Soil stored moisture from rainfall for pasture production, where there is not a competitive use.

 

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The Research

A comprehensive survey of the environmental practices of Australian cattle and sheep farmers in 2010 found that farmers are increasingly monitoring and managing their water use:

  • 55% of farmers had installed additional watering points to replace water for stock from natural watercourses
  • 61% of Queensland producers had installed water points
  • 86% of farmers monitored the level of water tables on their properties

The Australian cattle & sheep industry are continually investing in research to help lower water consumption. Some projects include:

  • Demonstrating the benefits of implementing water point telemetry on extensive beef enterprises
    • Monitoring and maintaining water availability to livestock is one of the most regular and time consuming tasks in extensive cattle enterprises.
    • On extensive cattle enterprises it can take hours, or days, to identify a water leak, with producers driving hundreds of kilometres to check water pumps are working, pipes aren’t broken and that cattle have enough water.  
    • This project aims to increase uptake of the telemetry technology that can help producers identify a bust pipe in a matter of minutes without leaving the farmhouse.