While here for a training tour in Australia (here it is spring, almost summer), I noticed how important water is to maintaining the success or failure of a horse or livestock business. How could you miss this pervading theme in a country that is alternatively blessed with drought, then floods?

Water tanks in Australia create hazards for thirsty or curious horses.

Photo courtesy Sonya Hatch.

The way that water is conserved for future use has a lot to do with why animals are quite commonly trapped in mud, water, and tank situations across the country. Despite efforts of owners to prevent it, both domestic and wild animals can end up in these scenarios. Since the heat of an Australian day may climb up to 42 deg C or 110 deg F, animals are subject to dehydration and heat exhaustion if not provided shade and plenty of water to maintain hydration.

The use of shade producing trees, run in sheds and wind blocking walls are very common all over the country – allowing the animals to determine their own comfort level during a day that may change 25 deg C or 60 deg F over just 24 hours. Providing enough water and ensuring that minimal wastage occurs in paramount for Australians, who have pioneered the use of floats and automatic level monitors for their water founts. (Or at the minimum requires a twice daily check of buckets, tanks and any other water offering.)

When they do get rain, it is often in large amounts – sometimes more than can be easily soaked into the ground, and for that reason Australia is famous for flooding situations as well. A small amount of rain upstream can result in a drastic increase in the amount of water in a creek or river over a short time – leaving little time to evacuate animals from floodplain pastures. In other scenarios such as cyclones and tropical storms that have hit the country (similar to Hurricane Sandy this fall in the USA) – hard hit areas of the country have received inches to feet of rain in less than a 24 hour period.

Attempts at swimming rescues using a boat or barge of cattle and horses out of low lying areas are commonly found on Utube and the news after these localized disasters. Australians seem far more conscious of water availability and preservation than many cultures – even some Americans that live in desert and drought prone areas are not as careful as the Australians to collect every possible drop of runoff into tanks around their homes and facilities. Water is expensive to purchase here (especially because of the delivery fees) and it is common to contact water sales companies to top off one’s tanks in serious drought conditions. Many companies have large tanker trucks and charge by the liter for the water.

Nowhere is water so commonly wasted – fountains and water displays are rare, and private pools are less common – as they flaunt wastage quite obviously. They have come up with many ways to preserve water for their use. I was amazed to realize that many Australians live totally off of tank water – out of tanks that collect rain water for laundry, drinking, showers, and watering their livestock. Unless they live in a very urban or suburban area, they will not have town water. Their homes have smaller and more water conserving features (ex: toilets can be flushed fully for fecal material, or just a half flush for urine). They often capture grey water from laundry, sinks and showers for use on plants in the garden, and are very careful about what goes into septic tanks (no feminine products, etc.)

But it is the placement of tanks in their yards and fields sometimes leads to entrapments when animals are able to step onto the top of the tank and then fall in. Livestock and horses are commonly allowed access to small ponds (called dams) on pastures and properties – as you can imagine these are quite mucky in drought conditions. They may be the site of numerous entrapments of wild and domestic animals attempting to get to water to drink – from kangaroos to horses. Healthy horses will rarely walk into a muddy situation unless they are really thirsty, and can normally get themselves out – but young or older and less healthy animals commonly are the ones that get stuck – and they can get really stuck.

These ponds are made to trap every bit of extra surface water in the pasture when it does rain – and they dot the landscape on almost every property. Large ponds will have a pump system to push water to a tank on a hill, or to the tanks at the house or barn. Some people fence these off during the more dangerous times, although recently in Northern Territory over 100 wild horses were found to have drowned trying to get to water in dams near Kimberly, Australia.

What are you doing to prevent these types of issues with water in your pastures, paddocks and facilities? Please share your ideas and photos with us all.