Alternative Pasture Water Systems

by Ken Williamson, Alberta Agriculture, Red Deer, Alberta

Last summer eight cow carcasses were discovered in the muck around a slough in north eastern Alberta. These cattle had waded out into the mud, got mired, and died because they couldn't escape. This may be a great way to create some more Alberta fossils for future generations to study, but it certainly did not do the cattle or their owners any good! The loss to the owner was approximately $8,000.

Many producers are looking at better alternatives for watering cattle on pasture. Currently, most of our pasture water systems involve direct access by cattle to sloughs, dugouts, and streams. The result has been damage to dugouts and streams from cattle destroying the banks and depositing manure in the water supply. The resulting nutrient build-up can cause a rapid growth of algae. Some of these algae are toxic. More subtle problems such as foot rot and water palatability are also concerns.

What are the alternatives?

a. Provide an access ramp. If cattle are given a watering site with a solid base and good footing they will choose that site for watering. The simplest approach is to extend, out into the water body, a 1.5 foot to 3 foot thick layer of compacted pit run gravel with about a 6:1 slope.

b. Utina and Lister pasture pumps. These pumps are unique devices that allow the cattle to pump water for themselves. The cattle use their noses to push a pendulum that pumps water into a small water bowl. Pasture pumps cost about $450 each and one pump is adequate for twenty-five head.

c. Gravity flow water reservoirs. This system makes use of the excavated soil from the dugout to build an above ground reservoir. A system like this can be set up for under $2,500.

d. Solar pumping systems. An array of solar panels converts sunshine into electrical energy. This energy can be used to either pump water to an elevated storage reservoir or it can be stored by batteries. The cost of solar pumping systems will range from $2,000 to $6,000.

e. Water hauling. Hauling water to livestock may seem to be a step back in time but there are situations where it is a viable alternative. Where cattle are moved daily from pasture to pasture water access is often a limiting factor. An old grain truck with a water tank can work well. An added advantage is that manure is kept on the pasture instead of being deposited in alley ways or near the water supply.

f. Pipelines can be a cost-effective alternative for watering livestock on pasture. Small diameter, shallow buried pipelines, can be installed very economically to distribute water to various pastures. These shallow pipelines must be sized correctly to do the job required and the pipes must be drained in the fall.

g. Windmills. Windmills have been used to pump water for centuries. The old style prairie windmill works well for pumping from wells but will easily cost $5,000. Smaller windmills that use compressed air to pump water are also available. These can be set up to pump from surface water supplies for less than $1,000.

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