Water Testing and Water Quality

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Water analysis: How important is it?

It is extremely important particularly when bore water is being used. All water sources have potential hazards when medicating. There may be:
Salinity, Total Hardness, Bacteria, Iron, Manganese, Algae, Low Dissolved Oxygen etc. But let's not get too carried away. Most water sources are suitable or can be made so with a few adjustments that we are now better equipped to identify.

Ammonia Blow out

There are few cattle breaders that haven't experienced an ammonia blow out. This is when the sulphate of ammonia and urea activates prematurely in the nutrient tank, pipe and tank systems, and ultimately at the trough. The purpose of feeding Urea is to stimulate an ammonia condition in the rumen not in the pipe system. The consequences of an ammonia smell are two fold. Firstly consumption rates are most likely going to decrease, and a portion of the urea will have been exhausted and no longer available to the animal. Avoiding this behaviour can be a process of elimination, beginning with a full water analysis to identify mineral levels that can cause a separation of your nutrients and ascertain minerals in your bore water. Mineral incompatibility has been identified in approximately 20% of cases where ammonia smell is an issue at the nutrient tank. Simply put, there are going to be times when an alternative sauce of water may be needed to mix nutrients in your nutrient tank. Minerals are not always to blame; dam water where minerals are low has also caused problems due to poor quality, presenting a high natural bacterial level.

Bacteria

Don't panic, bacteria is found naturally in all water sources, it's only when conditions are right that it may become an issue. Bacteria feed on rubbish in the water decaying it back to nothing more than fine mud particles that ordinarily would settle on the bottom of your dam or turkeys nest as silt. Unfortunate these bacteria don't discriminate between natural organic matter and your expensive nutrient blend. Given the right conditions they can be responsible for turning your nutrient tank into an ammonia factory. What you’re trying to do is deliver these nutrients to the rumen where the bacteria can play up all they like.

Dissolved Oxygen (D.O.)

Without question one of the most important perimeter in your water analysis. Unfortunately not many analysts offer this to measure this important parameter. Most bores are low in DO, the deeper and saltier the bore the less likely this water will contain much DO. DO is very important in identifying a suitable water for nutrient feeding. You needn’t panic if it is found to be low as it's relatively simple to increase DO levels.

We have discussed the relationship between bacteria and ammonia blow out. Now you need to understand how DO can help. When bacteria are active in water they use up available DO, obviously the greater the bacteria colonisation the more DO is absorbed out of the water. At a point where the DO reaches a "0" level, there is a higher probability that your water could fall into a stagnate condition. We’ve tested DO levels at the trough when ammonia is present and found "0" readings as expected.

pH: What should I look for?

Firstly you are likely to ask, "what is pH? To avoid taking up valuable space I'll simply put it like this. "pH (potential of Hydrogen): A measure of the degree of the acidity or the alkalinity of a solution as measured on a scale of 0 to 14. The midpoint of 7.0 on the pH scale represents neutrality--that is, a "neutral" solution is neither acid nor alkaline. It is important to understand that pH is a measure of intensity, not of capacity. The pH of 8 indicates alkaline water not how much alkalinity it contains. So why is this so important? It's very important when your pH is high (Alkaline) The rumen functions at about 6.5 pH (slightly Acidic), when water is offered with a pH exceeding 8.0 it’s likely that consumption rates have the potential to go lower, even when supplement is added. Add Urea and sulphate of ammonia and it is very likely that you will experience an ammonia blowout at some point.

What is an Ammonia Blowout?

This is when you can smell ammonia either in the nutrient tank, storage tanks or at the trough. Where it appears can be an indicator of the cause so take particular notice. Water pH is one of several causes for ammonia blowouts, others maybe bacterial, (Low Dissolved Oxygen), or mineral balance. If the problem is present in the nutrient tank it may be any of the above, if found in tanks down line of the nutrient dispenser but not in the nutrient tank it could be pH or bacterial, which are closely related. However if the main lines are clear of ammonia it is more likely that pH is responsible.

Controlling pH

water pH is all about chemistry; everything you add to, or remove from your water will influence the pH. Your water analysis may give a pH neutral at the bore head or turkey nest, however, by the time it reaches the trough several km away it could be well above eight, at this point it is likely to be effecting your consumption rates. Water low in mineral is generally considered to be excellent drinking quality, however it is more likely to experience a pH rise because of a lack of natural pH buffers. Add sulphate of ammonia, which naturally pushes pH up, and there may not be enough resistance to prevent pH from climbing out of control.

Acid Injection for pH control

We’ve tried many and varied ways of controlling pH from introducing vinegar, citric acid, Vital liquid fertilizer, and the list goes on. there a number of developing products and additives to control pH from the nutrient tank. Some have been successful over short distances and others have failed miserably turning water lines into your worst nightmare. There are several acids available, however, experience has shown that Hydrochloric acid is the most reliable and stable over long distances. Further advantages to Hydrochloric are neutral to taste compared to Phosphoric, and Sulphuric acids. The use of Phosphoric acid may not be advisable if your water isn’t suitable for Phosphorus. (Refer Phosphorus supplementing)

Citric acid is commonly used in nutrient tanks, of all the acids available Citric is the safest to handle and adds a citric taste to the water, which has been seen as beneficial to consumption rates, however, citric is a mild acid that doesn’t hold pH down over long distances. After establishing that pH is an issue by checking trough lines and tank supplies with your own pH test meter, we recommend injecting Hydrochloric acid as early in the system as possible, and definately before the nutrient dispenser.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is a very important nutrient for those that have deficient land. Caution, however, must be applied when feeding Phosphorus through the water line. It must be understood that all natural waters contain levels of bacteria that for the most do not create problems provided you keep your water system clean and free of scale formations, and algae etc. On the other hand if your water smells, has low (DO), your tanks and troughs build up with organic sludge etc. There’s a high probability that feeding phosphorus through this type of system may not be possible. Phosphorus is “virtually” an agar for bacteria, that is, they love it, and it’s like giving icecream to kid. The symptoms are very obvious, pipes block up with slime, sludge, an oily film may appear on the water at troughs, water smells, and consumption will suffer. Ammonia smell inevitably will be present, as all this activity will drive pH up activating the Sulphate of Ammonia and Urea. When considering Phosphorus start cautiously and be vigilant, if conditions change for the worse consider feeding phosphorus via other methods. There are many farmers out there that are feeding Phosphorus through the water very successfully. Some bag mixes contain small amounts of Phosphorus, if you are having problems with some of the above systems and don’t need to feed Phosphorus though the water, I suggest selecting a mix without Phosphorus.

Scale formation: Is it a concern?

The answer is yes, if you are supplementing, particularly if phosphorus is being used. If you’re not supplementing the problems is obvious, reduced pipe size, flow rate reduction, blockages, float valve damage, etc. Now if you are supplementing scale formation is a perfect habitat for bacteria, which isn’t so much a problem when every thing is running smoothly. However, in hot conditions, or when your maintenance gets behind scale increases the chances of ammonia problems that may result in reduced intake levels. It just doesn’t make sense to live with scale when it’s so very easily removed and or prevented with the “Fluid Reactor Magnetic Systems” Scale can take different forms, predominantly calcium is responsible for most forms of sale because of it’s ability to fall out quickly. Silica is a very different problem. It’s transparent and generally becomes an issue over 20 –30 ppm. It’s not uncommon to find levels of 60–70 ppm around Australia. Silica pretty much only becomes a problem when associated with high pH, which stimulates silica to start forming a solid. An indicator of this is floating semi clear disc formations in tanks, this is the beginning of a floating scale formation of silica and calcium, which attaches to the silica weighing it down or bonding it to the tank walls. If permitted to form like this, a swift kick to the tank wall can see it all collapse to the bottom blocking outlets or floating down stream to trough valves etc.

To prevent silica forming we come back to hydrochloric acid once again, this keeps the pH down preventing the precipitation of silica, and you may never know it was there.

My dam water is dirty: does this matter?

Dirty dam water isn’t a problem if the discolouration is only colloidal solids. However, if cattle are free ranging into the dam it’s probable that it has phosphates, algae, and an elevated pH, which we know to be a very real issue. If you are pumping from a dam to trough systems it’s ideal to have dams fenced to prevent free ranging, and run flow meters to troughs as a guide to consumption rates. When it comes to questioning whether dam water is suitable, be guided by consumption rates. If the dam is spring fed it is best t o have it analysed also. Dam waters are more susceptible to algae and bacterial contamination if consumption levels are low there are a number of treatments that would be suitable. We are currently exploring O-Zone as a conditioner for dam water, trials so far have increased consumption levels by as much as 50%. O-Zone isn’t new however it is now very affordable and works well on dirty water.

What about tanks and troughs, does it matter what type I'm using?

It’s all about maintenance, time, convenience, etc. From a water quality perspective I prefer poly over concrete. Concrete troughs are a haven for bacteria and algae spore, the older they are the harder they are to clean affectively. Cup and saucers are a nightmare to clean, there is a greater chance of sludge build up in this type of system and are less likely to be cleaned out effectively as often as you would if it where a standard poly trough. Provided tanks have a lid and are able to be drained and cleaned easily and regularly, it doesn’t matter.

Contact Us

  • Postal Address:
  • PO Box 1160
  • Wagga Wagga NSW 2650 Australia
  • Location:
  • 111 Biroomba lane
  • Wagga Wagga NSW 2650 Australia
  • Phone: 02 6925 8555
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