Water conservation tips for livestock producers

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Source: Government of Alberta

Water conservation can help reduce costs, improve animal health and productivity, and protect the environment for the future.

“Water is a precious resource for livestock producers, especially in times of drought,” says Shawn Elgert, agricultural water engineer with the Alberta government. “Water conservation can help reduce costs, improve animal health and productivity, and protect the environment for our future.”

Elgert says there are several things producers can do to conserve water for livestock, starting with keeping livestock out of the water sources. Livestock can contaminate water sources with feces, urine and pathogens, which can affect the quality and quantity of water available. Livestock can also damage the banks and vegetation of water sources, leading to erosion and sedimentation. To prevent these problems, fence off water sources and provide off-source watering systems, such as troughs, tanks, or pipelines. See Off-Source Watering Systems for Livestock fact sheet for further information.

“Drought proof size and protect dugouts to capture and preserve more runoff so it doesn’t just overflow downstream and so you can have water in a time of drought,” says Elgert. “A 2-year drought supply is a good rule of thumb to design for. Dugouts should be sized according to the water demand, the runoff potential and the climate of the area.”

A dugout should be located in an area where it can be filled 8 out of 10 years to be feasible. Dugouts also lose water through evaporation, and sometimes seepage. Covers can be utilized to reduce algal growth and evaporation of the water and, if necessary, liners can be installed to prevent seepage. Monitor your dugout regularly for water quality problems. See Quality Farm Dugouts Manual for further information.

“Prevent contamination of water by utilizing best management practices for water sources. Best management practices (BMPs) are methods or techniques that can help protect water quality and quantity.”

Some examples of BMPs for water sources include the following:

  • installing buffer strips or riparian zones around water sources to filter runoff and prevent erosion
  • maintaining or restoring wetlands to store and purify water
  • using proper storage and disposal methods for manure, chemicals and other potential pollutants
  • testing water regularly for contaminants (inquire about proper treatment methods when necessary)

The Rural Water Quality Information Tool can be used to assess water suitability for the intended purpose.

Consider rainwater capture to help reduce the demand for groundwater or surface water, and to reduce runoff and erosion. Some producers have large buildings where they can capture a good amount of rainwater.

Construct and operate spring developments properly. When a spring development is constructed, it should be designed well so it does not damage or deplete the spring. Do not overdevelop or over pump a spring as this can deplete the water in the aquifer. Shut off flow of the spring when not needed with a float valve if possible. See Spring Development Fact Sheet for further information.

Control flowing wells. Flowing wells are wells that produce water flowing above ground elevation without pumping, due to the natural pressure of the aquifer. Flowing wells can provide a convenient and abundant source of water for livestock, but they can also waste large amounts of water if not controlled. Flowing wells can also affect the availability of water for other users. To conserve water from flowing wells, a sealed well cap and a valve can be installed to control the flow of the well.

“Producers can also consider reusing water for washing not requiring higher quality water,” says Elgert. “Water reuse can help save water, energy and money. Water reuse should follow the appropriate guidelines and regulations to ensure the safety and quality of the water and the environment.”

Use proper nozzles for specific cleaning jobs. Nozzles can affect the efficiency and effectiveness of cleaning jobs, such as washing livestock, equipment or facilities. Using proper nozzles for specific cleaning jobs can help conserve water, energy and time, and can also improve the quality and hygiene of the cleaning. For example, using a high-pressure nozzle for washing can reduce the water consumption and the cleaning time, compared to using a low-pressure nozzle. Using a fan-shaped nozzle for rinsing can cover a larger area and remove more dirt, compared to using a jet-shaped nozzle.

Cooler water helps with livestock weight gain. To provide cooler water for livestock, use insulated or shaded water tanks or troughs and underground or buried pipelines to transport water.

“Run livestock cooling equipment in a barn on a cycle instead of full time. Livestock cooling equipment, such as fans, misters or sprinklers, can help livestock reduce heat stress and improve comfort and performance and reduce water consumption. However, livestock cooling equipment can also consume a lot of water and energy and can increase the humidity and the disease risk in the barn. To conserve water and energy from livestock cooling equipment, run the equipment on a cycle instead of full time, such as during the hottest hours of the day, or when the temperature or the humidity exceeds a certain threshold.”

Beware of overfilling tanks and use float valves. Overfilling can waste water and money and can also damage the container and the surrounding area. Overfilling can occur if manually filling a water container, such as a bucket, a barrel or a trough, without paying attention to the water level or the time, or by letting a spring that constantly flows to overflow a tank. To prevent overfilling, use float valves to automatically stop the water flow when the container is full.

Monitor for leaky pipelines and repair them. Leaky pipelines are pipelines that have cracks, holes or loose connections, causing water to leak or drip. Leaky pipelines can waste water and money and can also reduce the water pressure and the flow rate. Leaky pipelines can also cause soil erosion and damage, water contamination or flooding.

To conserve water from leaky pipelines:

  • monitor the pipelines regularly for signs of leakage, such as wet spots, puddles or mold
  • use a leak detection device, such as a meter, a sounder, or a camera, to locate the source and the extent of the leakage
  • repair the pipelines as soon as possible, using the appropriate tools and materials

Use snow fencing to trap snow for surface water runoff for dugouts. Snow fencing is a type of fencing that is used to control the movement and the accumulation of snow. Snow fencing can help trap snow in a desired area, by creating a barrier or a windbreak that reduces the wind speed and causes the snow to drift and pile up.

Snow fencing can be used to increase the surface water runoff for dugouts, by trapping snow in the catchment area of the dugouts and allowing the snow to melt and flow into the dugouts. Snow fencing can help increase the water supply and the water quality for livestock, especially in areas with low precipitation or high evaporation.

“Finally, consider utilizing pasture pipelines from unused sources,” says Elgert. “Pasture pipelines are pipelines that deliver water from a source to a distribution point, such as a tank or a trough, in a pasture. Pasture pipelines can help conserve water for cattle ranchers, by utilizing unused or underused water sources, such as wells, springs, dugouts or ponds, which are located away from the pasture.”

Pasture pipelines can also reduce the water losses and the contamination risks from surface water sources, by using underground shallow or buried pipelines that prevent evaporation and keep the water cooler.

“Make an effort and consider implementing water conservation in your agricultural operation today,” says Elgert.

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