Source: Government of Alberta
“When water sources are diminished due to lack of quantity or quality, shallow buried pasture water pipelines should be considered as a practical and economical way to supply livestock with water on pasture,” says Shawn Elgert, agricultural water engineer with the Alberta government. “Instead of constructing a dugout where the runoff is not consistent or dependable, a pasture pipeline can bring the water to the cattle instead of forcing the cattle to go the water.”
Shallow buried pasture water pipelines have many benefits, such as improving animal health and performance by providing clean and fresh water, reducing soil erosion and nutrient runoff by providing an alternative to accessing natural water sources, enhancing pasture productivity and quality by enabling rotational grazing and better distribution of manure, saving time and labour by eliminating the need to haul water, and increasing land value by adding permanent water infrastructure.
These pipelines are designed to be used during the frost-free part of the pasture season. They are polyethylene pipes that can be installed between 6 and 30 inches below the ground and can deliver water from a pressurized source (such as a dugout, well, or municipal line) to a trough or a tank.
The pipes are usually one to two inches in diameter, depending on the length and demand of the system. The pipes can be installed using a plow or a ripper that cuts a narrow furrow in the soil and places the pipe in it. The furrow is then closed by running a tractor tire over it.
“High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipes are recommended as they can withstand rupture from water freezing inside the pipe,” explains Elgert. “If spring watering is desired, it is advised to blow the lines out in the fall after using, as the lines can take some time to thaw in the spring. If the line is as deep as 30 inches, it is harder to remove if maintenance is required.”
Selecting a larger diameter pipe than required for flow rates can help reduce energy requirements as well as installation problems (for example, if a rock has created a kink in the line). Companies that install these types of pipelines often get a better deal on the pipe as they purchase large quantities, so producers should consider hiring a company install it.
Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation has a pipeline plow available and free to use. For more information on the pipeline plow, contact 310-FARM and ask to speak with a water specialist. A tractor with at least 100 horsepower is recommended to use with this plow. To avoid any surprises during installation, one pass should be made with the plow before installing the pipe.
“The design and installation of shallow buried pasture water pipelines depend on several factors, such as location and capacity of the water source, distance and elevation of the pasture, number and type of livestock, layout and size of the troughs or tanks, soil type and topography, and availability of power and equipment.”
Other general tips for designing and installing shallow buried pasture water pipelines include the following:
- Avoid rocks, stony ridges, or other obstructions that can damage the pipe or reduce the water flow.
- Joints where needed should use proper connection methods such as fusing the pipes together.
- The system should be tested for leaks and proper operation before being used.
“Shallow buried pasture water pipelines may be an excellent option for watering livestock on pasture,” says Elgert. “They can improve animal welfare, environmental stewardship and farm profitability. And, with proper planning and assistance, they can also be installed easily and inexpensively.”
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