Water quality plays a role in fattening up livestock and dam renovations could reap financial rewards long-term, according to Australian researchers.
Access to water is a critical aspect of livestock production, although the relationship
between livestock weight gain and water quality remains poorly understood.
Previous work has shown that water quality of poorly managed farm dams can be improved by fencing and constructing hardened watering points to limit stock access to the dam, and revegetation to filter contaminant inflow.
The researchers used data from three North American studies showing the weight gain of cattle when given access to better quality of water to determine whether this would be financially viable in rural New South Wales and Victoria.
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The study, "Increased livestock weight gain from improved water quality in farm dams: A cost-benefit analysis," was published in scientific journal PLOS One this week.
Researchers found if a farmer invested in dam renovations like fencing, revegetation and strategies to limit stock access, there was more than a 70 per cent chance they would see a cost benefit from stock weight gain.
The average per-farm Benefit-Cost Ratios based on deterministic assumptions was 1.5 for New South Wales (NSW) and 3.0 for Victoria in areas where rainfall exceeds 600mm annually.
Researchers' analyses suggested cattle on farms in NSW and Victoria would need to experience additional weight gain from switching to clean water of at least 6.5 per cent and 1.8 per cent per annum respectively, to break even in present value terms.
Researchers recommended localised experiments to assess the impact of improved water quality on livestock weight gain in Australian conditions, to confirm these expectations empirically.
The researchers say incentive schemes for these kinds of projects could benefit both farmers and biodiversity.
• The study was part of the Sustainable Farms initiative at The Australian National University. Funding for the work was provided by grants from the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, the Ian Potter Foundation, and the William Buckland Foundation.