Troubled waters? Find an alternative

Droughts have a nasty way of decreasing water levels. This means that the streams, ponds, or even shallow wells that your cattle depend on may not be sufficient during dry spells. When this hap­pens, supplemental water is needed for grazing cattle.

One of the cheapest options, if available, is to use other wells, ponds or streams on the farm. Be­fore you do this, ensure the quality and quantity of the water source. Be careful when considering the use of shallow ponds during warm weath­er. Low water levels in warm ponds are ideal conditions for cyanobac­teria growth that can release toxins into the water.

If you are putting an old well back into use, make sure the pump you’re using is appropriate for the job. If electrical power isn’t available at the well, engine-driven, solar or battery-powered pumps are an option. Look at storage capacity re­quirements here as well. From per­sonal experience, I can assure you that it is easy to inadvertently get a pump that exceeds the capacity of the well to supply water. Match the well’s capability to the pump, rather than using whichever pump was lying around unused.

When using alternative watering options, often the most straightfor­ward strategy is to move cattle to the new source. The specifics will depend on your operation, but tem­porary lane fencing can be helpful in cases like this. If moving cattle to the water source isn’t practical, the other option is to move the water to the cattle.

If the new water source is within 1,000 feet, consider piping it into the pasture. You’ll need to consider the terrain, the pipe size, pump capacity and storage capacity to determine if this is feasible. Tem­porary above-ground piping works well until sustained below-freezing temperatures. You can lay polyeth­ylene pipe along fence lines and protect it when it cuts across gates or roads.

If neither moving cattle to the water source nor piping water to the pasture is possible, the final option is to haul water. Hauling water is effective but gets old very quickly. If you’re loading water from a non-pressurized source, you’ll probably need a transfer pump. Don’t load water into tanks that have held liquid fertilizers, fuel, pesticides, etc. Make sure that tanks are ap­propriately secured to the vehicle or trailer and that towing vehicles have sufficient hauling power and braking capacity.

While hauling water with a vehi­cle, try not to brake sharply. When you start to brake, the water moves forward in a wave. The water hits the front of the tank, and then the wave reverses and thumps the back of the tank. The harder the braking, the more pronounced the effect. This can be a source of anxiety.

Getting water to the pasture is often the greatest challenge, but it is also important to consider what to do with the water once it’s at the pasture. If you’re connecting a new supply to an existing water distri­bution system, remember to first disconnect the old water supply from the system. If the flow rate or pressure of the new supply is too low, consider using a surge or supply tank with a second pump to feed the distribution system.

When you’re hauling water to pasture, you’ll need a supply tank. Don’t use the original well as a supply tank. While at first glance it seems like a good idea, doing so risks contaminating the well and often results in significant loss of water. There are several options for how to hold water in a pasture. The transport tank can serve as the supply tank, or you can offload it into a separate supply tank. Above-ground tanks such as firefighting supply tanks or swimming pools work well. Shallow dugout ponds lined with plastic can also work. Re­gardless of the type of supply tank, the minimum volume should be the complete water requirement for the cattle between deliveries.

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