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Drought stricken water supply a limiting factor when grazing livestock

By Missy Hodgin
Texas AgriLife Agent

Livestock producers are becoming increasingly concerned about stock water as levels of stock ponds continue to decrease.  Some local producers are beginning to sell stock out of already diminished herds.  The fact is water can be a limiting factor when grazing livestock on rangeland.

Improper distribution of watering sites will contribute to the following:

  • Excessive grazing in areas near water sources.
  • Uneven utilization of the rangeland.
  • Livestock traveling long distances to get to water which reduces grazing time, forage intake, weight gain or milk production.
  • Loss of forage from excessive trailing and trampling.

Water consumption is influenced by the type and physiological status of livestock, nature of the forage and weather conditions.   For example, green forage is higher in moisture content than dry forage and reduces water consumption.  High temperatures increase consumption, while cool temperatures reduce consumption, and increased humidity in the air reduces daily consumption.  Water consumption increases with age, weight, pregnancy and lactation.

Rivers, streams, springs and existing stock ponds provide the least expensive source of water.  Water wells provide water in many locations where surface water is not available.  Windmills, solar powered pumps or electric submergible pumps, and piston-engine driven pumps are used to bring water to the surface.  Another option may be rainwater captured in a storage container (tank) as a supplemental or as the sole source of water for livestock.

Rainwater is done with a collection surface, conveyance to a storage tank and a watering trough.  Rainwater can be captured as run-off from a house, barn, rain barn or specially-prepared surface area on the ground.  During a one-inch (25.4 mm) rainfall, approximately 0.6 gallons of water falls on each square foot of surface area.  Runoff is collected more efficiently from smooth surfaces, such as tin roofs.  Efficiency decreases as the surface becomes rougher and more porous.  Runoff can be captured from an existing or newly constructed roof (or a “paved” area on a hillside) surface conveyed through guttering and piping, cleaned with a roof washer and/or screen, and stored in a collection tank for livestock.

The two most expensive parts of the system are the roof or paved surface and the storage tank.  If an existing system (barn roof and storage tank) is in place, the cost to add rainwater to the system is minimal.  In some areas of the western United States, the soil or rock is treated to shed water, and the run-off is collected at a low point for wildlife and/or livestock.  Storage tanks can be made of concrete, fiberglass, corrugated metal (with or without special liners), steel or polyethylene.  Polyethylene tanks are the least expensive up to approximately 4,000 gallons.  Corrugated metal tanks with special liners are also a cost effective option.  However, local availability may dictate the container choice.  Covered tanks reduce evaporation and keep water cleaner.  By using translucent material and closing the top, algae problems will be minimal because the algae must have sunlight to grow.

All livestock prefer to drink cool, clean, fresh water.  Smaller (more narrow and shallow) watering troughs allow more frequent water replacement, thus keeping water cooler and fresher.  Larger herds require more linear trough space to allow more animals to drink at the same time.  Evaluate fill rate to ensure water is readily available for livestock.  Place the water trough at a lower elevation than the tank to allow gravity flow from the tank to the trough.  If the tank and trough are at the same elevation, only the tank volume above the trough float is available water.   If the storage tank is lower than the watering trough, the water must be pumped up hill.

The amount of water needed depends on the kind of animal, number of animals, annual rainfall and the expected length of time between rainfalls.  The lower the average annual rainfall, a larger roof and storage container are needed.

Water is an issue.  And the need for it is just going to increase as the population increases.  Livestock producers and homeowners alike must continue to seek alternative sources and ways to most effectively use the valuable water that we receive.


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The Pioneer Sentinel is an online newspaper designed to deliver the news of Clay County, Texas, in a concise and community-friendly format.

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