Let’s focus on Water

Practical and time saving ideas for rainwater collection

When it comes to water on a smallholding, there is usually too much or not enough: the trick is to get rid of what you don’t want before it creates a problem (flooding and mud) but to always have enough for when you do want it.

For livestock owners, the main reason you need water is of course for your animals to drink. Cows can get through 200-250 litres a day in hot weather, sheep nearly 18 litres. Lactating animals need more than non-lactating ones. Pigs need a wet wallow as well as fresh water to drink and though not a legal requirement, it’s great to give your waterfowl enough water to have a full body wash and a good splash about.

Hopefully, you will have access to water via mains, springs, a borehole etc as well as what falls from the sky. It is useful to be able to harness both sources, if possible. The following explores a few ideas


Getting your water to where you want it safely and easily. Water is VERY heavy, you don’t want to be carrying it great distances. Water bowsers or similar are perfect EXCEPT when you have to drive them across a seriously muddy field but if land access is okay, they are just the job!! Before we got a bit more organised we even put a water butt on our land trailer, filled it up with a hosepipe and then drove it out to the cows to bucket it out.


You can bury piping in the ground and get piped water to some key places. On our one-acre back in Cornwall, we had water pipe around the entire perimeter with taps/water troughs placed at regular intervals. Heavy duty hosepipes will cope with being left lying on top the ground (for a while) and some of them are surprisingly long, up to 60 metres, so allowing you to fill up water containers ‘away’ from the entrance to your fields and so avoid poaching.


If you are using movable water containers/troughs, DO actually move them, don’t allow the grass to die back and/or the ground to become too poached. If you have larger troughs, consider putting woodchip or scalpings around them to help soak up some of the spillage and avoid poaching there too.


They collect a lot of water and it will be wondrously fresh. However, on a dark, damp winter’s day, a couple of hours of torrential rain could see a tank being filled.

We have IBC tanks by our field shelters with overflow piping taking any excess into ditches and hedges. It is important if you collect water to be able to direct it where you want. Natural water sources are great but again need management. We have an old well fed by a spring in one field that keeps a trough filled up but we also have a land drain taking away the excess. We still have some wet land because water will of course find the point of least resistance and not conveniently all head for the piping you have just laid.


It is important to have at least one place where you can stand and wash wellies and/or rinse containers/feeders etc. This usually means having a tap and hosepipe and either an area of concrete (with a drain) or a soakaway. Such an area must not become a quagmire or a place where dirty water can collect and so encourage disease.

All the above ideas are designed to aid efficiency, maximise your time and protect your land, BUT if you do have to stand with a hosepipe and fill a container, this gives you a perfect opportunity to do a bit of stock watching – and that, is never time wasted.

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Jack Smellie

Jack Smellie and David Chidgey run a ten-acre smallholding in North Devon. The duo run Smallholding Courses and Family Learning Sessions at their site near Chulmleigh and will be bringing monthly smallholding advice, tips and a diary of life at Relaxed.

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