Sheep and water: Quantity AND quality matter
DOHNE MERINO, FARMING | March 18, 2019
It’s not sufficient to make sure your Dohne Merino sheep have water. It’s vital they also have access to GOOD QUALITY water.
On World Water Day (Sunday 22 March), we celebrate the role of water – not only in our lives, but also that of our livestock. For Suidplaas Dohnes, it’s a good time to celebrate. Following a six-year drought in the Overberg, the Soutrivier (which runs through our farm and into the De Hoop Vlei) is finally running again, following the January downpour. (We saw around 70mm of rain in January – during our traditionally hot summer months).
That’s the first time in six years this river is flowing again.
At the height of the drought, Wynand and the team were forced to transport 40,000 litres of water per day to our Dohne sheep. This was not only hard work, but also extremely costly.
So how do you know how much water you require for your sheep? Here are a couple of pointers.
– Adult sheep consume between 4 and 6 litres of water a day (especially in the heat of summer).
– In winter, work on about half that amount.
– Pregnant ewes, and ewes that are lactating need even more water. Their water needs depend on whether they’re carrying singles (lower water requirements), or twins or triplets (higher water requirements). For lactating ewes – you can work on up to 10 litres a day.
– And sheep that are indoors during feeding also require access to water at all times.
There are, of course, some exceptions to these pointers. For example, when there’s dew on the grass (or the crop they’re eating), then they may need less water.
But farmers can’t just provide any water. It has to be good quality water (sheep do not like dirty water). When the water is dirty, they simply won’t drink as much. When they don’t drink water, they also eat less – and this affects their yields and could allow them to pick up diseases (like foot-rot) or results in a decrease in their milk production.
Here’s a tip: Test your water for heavy metals and minerals (these prevent growth), and for bacteria such as E. coli. Test the pH of the water, and how ‘hard’ the water is. Also beware of coccidiosis, a disease caused when faeces contaminates the water supply.