Clear Cool Water: Livestock Watering Workshop

l-r: David Redhage, Will Lathrop, Amber Reece, Daryl Davis

Will Lathrop demonstrates water line connection
Will Lathrop demonstrates water line connection

If the average human should drink on average 8 glasses (about ½ gallon) of water per day, and even more in hot weather, how much does the average cow need to drink?

It depends. At 50 degrees a cow may consume 5-10 gallons per day, but at 95 degrees, that same cow will drink 24 gallons per day.

The importance of making adequate, clean water available to cattle year-round was the focus of the Kerr Center’s Water and Livestock Workshop on Saturday, June 11.

Folks from Oklahoma and Arkansas listened to experts from the center and OSU Cooperative Extension explore water quality and ways to keep water clean on a working ranch.

Also discussed were water sources, ways to bring water to the herd, and various types of watering tanks.

Kerr Center vice-president David Redhage kicked off the event with a slide show overview of the topics to be covered.

Le Flore County extension educator Amber Reece shared the results of a year-long study she made comparing water quality from a pond and in different tanks on the Kerr Ranch.

Why manage livestock water quality? Clean water consumption is essential for cattle health,” said Reece. “Water is the MOST important nutrient for cattle.”

Cattle will consume less water if it contains high levels of contaminants, such as sediment or algae, she pointed out. This decreased consumption can lead to heat stress and reduced feed and forage intake, decreasing weight gains.

Conversely, consuming clean water leads to a higher daily rate of gain. According to a 2008 Mississippi State University study, nursing calves gain 9% more, and feeder steers, 16% more.

So you’ve got a source of clean water. How do you get it to your livestock? Kerr Ranch Foreman Simon Billy introduced the group to siphon watering system and after a light supper, the group went to a pond near the office to see the system demonstrated.

Simon Billy talks about siphoning water from a pond for ranch watering system
Simon Billy talks about siphoning water from a pond for ranch watering system

Water is siphoned from a pond and then flows downhill through pipes to various watering points around the ranch.

Water quality is important on the Kerr Ranch, he said. “We want the water leaving the ranch to be as clean as, or cleaner, than when it flowed onto the ranch.”

The Kerr Ranch practices rotational grazing. The pastures on the Kerr Ranch are divided into “cells” and cattle are rotated through the cells.

“When using this system, dependable and economical methods of providing water to livestock at multiple locations are needed,” said Redhage.

Beef cows may travel to water three-five times per day, he said. When deciding where to locate water, ranchers need to keep in mind how far the cows will have to travel, and the paths they take. Overused paths can lead to erosion. Making cattle travel farther to get a drink cuts into the time they spend grazing.

Livestock on the Kerr Ranch drink from ponds, but also from watering tanks fed mostly by gravity flow from ponds. A few watering points use rural water.

Kerr Cattle Manager Will Lathrop pointed out that utilizing pond water is much more economical than paying for water from a rural water district or town source.

IMG_mr0016The group also took a look at watering tanks: tanks made from tractor tires and commercially available Rubbermaid tanks.

The Kerr Ranch has used tire watering tanks for over twenty years. They have a number of advantages, said Program Assistant Daryl Davis. They are easy for cattle of all sizes to drink from, and the thick rubber helps insulate the water in the winter. They are long-lasting, economical– often available free, and with the right tools, easy to make.

Daryl Davis (front) talks about the tire watering tanks
Daryl Davis (front) talks about the tire watering tanks

But how does the water quality in a tire tank compare to a commercially available tank or pond water?

From April 2014-April 2015 Reece tested water each month at the Kerr Center. She tested water samples from a pond fenced off from cattle, a Rubbermaid tank, filled via PVC pipe from the fenced-off pond, and three tire watering tanks—one filled through PVC pipe from rural water, one filled through pvc pipe from the fenced-off pond, and one filled through a metal pipe from the fenced off pond.

The water was tested for pH, average temperature, algae and total soluble solids (TSS).

“Clean water can come from multiple sources” was her conclusion.

“Water fed from a surface location that does not have livestock access provides a viable source of water to any type of trough or tank. Tire watering tanks provide a safe, easy to manage water sources for rotationally grazed paddocks,” she added.

All sources of water were consistently within “healthy” parameters for livestock. The average water temperature was cooler in the pond, by a few degrees on average, as you might expect, given its greater depth. There was no significant differences in quality between the water sourced from the rural water district and the water from the pond.

The one exception was the tire watering tank filled through a metal pipe. The pipe was put in many years ago and is old and rusty. The pipe did affect the “desirability” of the water. While the water was within healthy parameters for livestock, she said, it did have a higher iron content and higher TSS levels, which encourage algae growth, give the water a dirty appearance and, presumably, a bad taste for livestock.

She said the cattle can consume the water with little to no health effects, but may choose another water source if available.

Livestock producers who want to test the water they provide their livestock should contact the Cooperative Extension office in their county. Testing is available at a reasonable cost, says Reece.

She noted that OSU’s tests do not measure bacteria, viruses or parasites. However the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) does do these tests. (If your property was affected by the recent floods, DEQ is offering free bacterial testing of private well water until Aug. 15, 2015. Call 1.800.522.0206 for more information.)

For more information:

Protecting Water Quality While Healing Erosion Caused by Livestock Trails

Tire Watering Tanks

Fencing Riparian Areas





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