Water for small farms

If you are interested in growing anything on your small farm, whether its just a vegetable garden, an orchard, or you want to keep some animals, you’re going to need to organise a source of water. Most small farms are located in rural properties that are not connected to town water, so your main source of drinking and household water will be either  water tanks or a bore. When you first move in, the water tanks may seem huge, but you will soon find out how quickly that water can be used if you are  sharing it with a garden and livestock. Adult cattle can drink up to 100 L/day, and I can use that much again on the vegetable garden if its been dry.

Farm dam

Unless you have a permanent flowing creek, your options for farm water will be either a dam or a bore. If there is already a dam on the property, don’t assume that the water quality is suitable or that it will hold water permanently. It is a good idea to take a water sample, and find out if your local council can test it for salt content. One clue that is immediately obvious is if the dam is clear, it is likely to be saline, whereas a silty dirty looking dam will have lower salt content. We have been caught out by thinking that the clear dam was better quality and it wasn’t until we tested the salt content we found out that it was barely suitable for cattle to drink and no good for the garden. The other thing to check is the bywash (the part of the bank where the water will overflow when the dam fills) and the bank in general for any signs of damage, erosion or instability. If the dam has been built correctly, it should have been dug out and the bank covered with the original top soil, it should have grass growing on the bank rather than being bare clay. However, there should be no trees growing on the bank, as the roots can cause holes to form in the bank. Rebuilding a dam can be more expensive than building a new dam, as it takes longer to fix poor work than to start again and do the job properly the first time.  

This is also an important point if you decide to have a dam built on your property. Make sure that you use an experienced contractor who will take the time  to dig out the dam area, remove all stumps, form the bank and then replace the top soil on the bank to allow grass to grow.  A quick, cheap dam may work  for a few years, but will be more prone to expensive problems in the future. 

Not every site has soil that is suitable for building dams, and you may end up with a hole that doesn’t hold water. Again, an experienced contractor can  help you to assess the ideal site for a dam and whether you have the right soil. You can also check out your neighbouring properties to find out whether  dams tend to hold water in your area, and look at the clay they have used in the successful dams as you may be able to find similar clay on your property.  If your soil is not appropriate, it is possible to buy in clay to build your dam.

Water trough

Your other option for water is a bore. Bores can be expensive as you pay based on the depth that is drilled, and you will have to pay even if water is not  found, but if you do strike water, you may find a source that is even more reliable than a dam. Water divining is an ancient practice, and some people  swear by diviners, while others dismiss it as mumbo-jumbo. I can’t say whether they work or not, but if you can find someone who is well recommended in  your area, it at least gives you a place to start looking for water, unless you have some obvious damp areas. You can also ask around your neighbours and  find out if any successful bores (or unsuccessful) have been sunk and the quality of the water that resulted, which will give you an idea of whether its worth  trying and how deep you may have to drill. Unfortunately, even if you find water, it may also be saline, so if pays to test it before using it on animals or your  garden.

Buying a property that already has a proven dam or bore with good water may cost more, but at least you know you will have water ready when you want to  start growing your garden or keeping stock. If you can’t find or afford a property with water, then be prepared to organise a water source before you get too  far with growing much on your property. 

Liz lives on eight acres in south east Queensland, Australia, with her husband Peter and two dogs. They have a passion for small-scale organic farming  and producing and eating real food. They keep chickens, beef steers, two jersey cows and a big vegetable garden. Liz writes a blog about their farm to both inspire and help others who are interested in self-sufficiency, sustainability and permaculture. http://eight-acres.blogspot.com.au/



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