What's All That Water For?

Conserving Natural Resources is Second Nature to Washington’s Dairy Farmers

Natural resources are not infinite, and no one knows that better than Washington’s dairy farmers. Dairy farmers take great care to make sure they conserve and reuse resources as much as possible. Water, the lifeblood of any farm, illustrates how Washington dairies try to be conservation leaders.

Providing fresh drinking water for the herd, keeping the crops hydrated when Mother Nature doesn’t provide enough rain, and re-using stored waste water to clean and flush the barns are all typical water uses on a Washington dairy farm. While this may seem like a lot of water, every drop of water on a typical Washington dairy farm is used an average of eight times! The steps below detail the process.

The Process

  1. Clean water is brought up from a WELL by a PUMP. The Pump supplies water to the family and employees who live and work on the farm. The people and cows on the farm all drink the same fresh water.
  2. The Pump also sends clean water to the milking parlor, where it is cycled through the PLATE COOLER. The Plate Cooler cools milk that has just been milked from the farm’s cows. Milk leaves a cow’s body at a temperature of over 100 degrees F., so it must be cooled before it is sent to the milk tank, where it is stored at a cool temperature until it is picked up by a milk tanker truck for transport to a milk processor.
  3. The clean water is then sent to a STORAGE TANK. From here, it can be sent to several places on the dairy for multiple uses. Clean water is used in MISTERS that spray water onto cows to regulate their body temperature on warm days. It is also sent to WATER TROUGHS around the dairy so that cows will have access to clean drinking water. After being used in the Plate Cooler, water comes out of the Storage Tank at 75 degrees F. This suits cows well, because drinking cold water gives them a stomach-ache. The water that is used in the Water Troughs eventually leaves the dairy in the form of MILK (milk is 87% water). Water from the Storage Tank also goes to a HOT WATER HEATER where it is heated to perform various on-farm tasks (including use in the washing machines). It goes to a WASH DOWN PUMP for use in cleaning the cows and milking parlor (including its equipment) after every milking. It also goes to a FLUSH TANK for use in washing away manure and other debris in the barns and other structures on the farm.
  4. After use, the water that was sent to the Hot Water Heater, Wash Down Pump and Flush Tank is collected in a STORAGE TANK for further use. Storage Tank water can be sent back to the Flush Tank for re-use in flushing the dairy. It eventually is sent to a SEPARATOR – a machine that separates solid animal waste (manure) from liquid animal waste (urine).
  5. Once it is dried and composted, the SOLIDS separated from the liquid animal waste are used on-farm for cow bedding (it is odorless and biologically inert), corral matting and other purposes. It is also sent off-farm as compost for landscaping and trail matting in national forests (among other uses). The liquid animal waste is sent to a LAGOON or liquid retention facility. Here, it is allowed to separate further from residual solid waste that may remain suspended in the liquid material. Once it is thoroughly separated, the liquid animal waste is used to fertilize crop fields both on the dairy and at other nearby non-dairy farms. Cow waste product is rich in nutrients that plants need to thrive.

Treating Washington’s natural resources with respect is something is long ingrained in Washington’s dairy farmers. For Eddie Avila of Moses Lake, WA, water conservation is something he learned firsthand by growing up his family’s 700-cow dairy:

“My father always taught us that you live for today, but farm as if you’ll live forever. Conserving our natural resources and treating the land with respect ensures we’ll have healthy animals and a healthy farm for generations to come. And I can see now, Dad was right.”

To learn more about what dairy families in Washington are doing to preserve our precious resources, visit On the Farm: Sustaining the Land.