Saving water in dairies

Under dry seasonal or drought conditions around South Africa, many farmers are looking at options to reduce their dairy water consumption.

The most efficient dairy sheds used under 2,000 litres of water per cow each year. At the other end of the scale, the most water used was 38,000 litres per cow each year – almost 20 times more than the best performers. The average was 9,600 litres per cow each year. This large variation in water use in dairies indicates that there are opportunities to save water and costs on many farms. 

Dairy farmers have identified many strategies to save water.  

Tips for reducing the amount of water used to clean dairy yards and sheds:

  • Giving the cows a few extra minutes to stand up and stretch before moving them off towards the dairy
  • Sweep or scrape floors and yards before washing down to greatly reduce the amount of water needed
  • Periodic automatic flushing of the yards during milking will make the clean–up quicker and easier. Dampening down the yard as the cows move through it will reduce the water needed to clean it afterwards
  • Overhead sprinklers, garden sprinklers or automatic sprays ensure that the yard remains damp enough for easy washing
  • Poly pipe, with holes to let the water dribble out, which is placed at the top of the yard slope keeps the surface wet without wetting the cows
  • Minimising the time animals spend standing in the yard reduces the amount of manure that needs to be cleaned up
  • In general, high-volume, low-pressure systems are better at moving manure
  • Use recycled water for yard wash
    • Diverting plate cooler water into wash down tanks for yard cleaning;
    • Installing a treatment storage pond will enable water to be recycled for yard washing or irrigation;
    • Installing appropriate flood wash tanks to suit the yard washing requirement and positioned strategically to optimise performance. 

Tips for reducing the amount of water used during milking:

  • Repair and replace broken nozzles or leaking hoses
  • Equip hoses with spring-loaded nozzles that have to be held open
  • Strategically wash dirty udders and teats
  • Rinse small equipment in a sink or bucket to save running water
  • In rotary sheds, turn off cup and platform sprays immediately after cows have left the platform and reduce unnecessary water volumes. These two components contribute nearly 40% of total daily water use
  • Use high volumes of water at low pressure in the dairy – too much pressure splatters manure everywhere 

Ways to reduce water during machine cleaning:

  • Avoid overuse of hot and cold rinsing volumes
  • Recycling detergent wash water saves on detergent and energy costs for heating water. Some water and additional chemical is added as needed.
  • Catching the final hot water rinse and using as the first rinse of the next milking saves water and energy use.