Stock Access to Water


Riparian areas are attractive to livestock and if a large amount of time is spent in these areas, there is likely to be undesired effects in terms of water quality, pugging and compaction of soils, and bank erosion. Farm livestock are sensitive to the palatability of water and prefer to drink clean water without contamination. Adequate sources of stock drinking water away from waterways should be provided to limit direct deposition of contaminants into waterways. Reticulated systems also minimise the impact of drought through added storage capacity.

Reticulated water supply
Image credit: PGG Wrightson


An AgFirst report published in 2017 investigated the benefits of installing stock water reticulation systems on hill country farms throughout New Zealand. The report was prepared for MPI, MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment), Te Puni Kōkiri, and Beef + Lamb NZ. The report was based on results from 11 case study farms around the country. Included in the report is advice and tips from the case study farmers to help others thinking about installing a scheme.

Benefits of reticulation systems included:

  • An increase in stock units per hectare
  • Increased animal productivity
  • Better grazing management
  • Greater pasture production
  • Better environmental outcomes
  • Greater ability to implement farm environment plans
  • Increased drought resistance.

Financial analysis showed:

  • An average rate of return of 45% over 20 years
  • An average payback period of 3 years.

Watch a video summarising the key findings.

The farmers from the study offered the following advice to anyone considering water reticulation.

  • Plan well and get good advice; work with people you like.

  • Speak to a farmer who has already put in a system.

  • Work out peak water requirements for your stock and allow for increased stocking rate because of water and additional subdivision.

  • Spend time understanding altitude, distances for pipe and animals to travel, and stock grazing patterns. This will help design the best system for your farm.

  • Talk to the pipe suppliers, they have a lot of experience and expertise with different farm systems and different water systems.

  • Make sure you understand the requirements for different pressure ratings on pipes, whether pressure-break tanks are needed, what fittings are needed to handle the pressure, and what the water source will need to supply.

  • Put in the entire system in one go rather than staging (if finance allows).

  • Ensure the water source is clean and reliable (plentiful all year around, including in drought conditions).

  • Put in more troughs than you think you will need (particularly where sheep and cattle will be drinking from the same trough). It is easier to put troughs in during installation than later, but at least allow for more to be put in.

  • Burying the pipe reduces the risks to the whole system.

  • Invest in a good pump.

  • If you need to pump vertically, try and reduce the lift if you can. This might require two pumps.

  • Use backflow preventers in the system. – Don’t use a trough as a pressure-breaker because if it is infected with animal faeces this will affect troughs further down the line.

  • Invest in repeater/telemetry to monitor tanks remotely.

  • Consider adding house supply in with the system, and include a firehose/hydrant for filling spray machines.

  • Put plenty of taps on feeder lines to enable isolation for fixing leaks.

  • Use trough location to improve grazing management by locating troughs in areas that are currently poorly grazed.

  • If finishing cattle or lambs, good quality, plentiful water is a necessity.

  • Fence off gullies and waterways during installation, rather than afterwards.

You can access the full report here.


Journeaux, P., & van Reenen, E. (2016). Economic evaluation of stock water reticulation on hill country. Agfirst report prepared for the Ministry for Primary Industries and Beef+ Lamb New Zealand.