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Ensuring Water for Livestock

Steer your farmland to success by beefing up its supply of H20 for your livestock.

| May/June 2020

During a drought, a lack of drinking water is often a bigger problem for livestock than a lack of forage. Livestock are removed from pastures with adequate feed left in them because there’s no drinking water after the pond or stream dries up. Ensuring reliable, adequate drinking water can help guarantee that it’s always possible to utilize forage when it’s available.

Livestock Water
Photo by Nick Moore

There’s also value in strategically distributing water sources throughout a pasture. Research trials performed by Jim Gerrish in Missouri indicate that cattle poorly utilize grazing areas that are more than 900 feet from water. Having only a single water source in a pasture tends to concentrate grazing in areas near the water source, resulting in overgrazing close to water and unutilized feed away from water. This is often aggravated by the fact that shade trees usually grow near water, and by the common practice among ranchers of putting salt sources close to water.

Having multiple water sources around a pasture can greatly improve grazing distribution so that grazing pressure is uniform. You can dramatically improve pasture performance by preventing both overgrazing and undergrazing. The first step towards this improvement is to develop a water source that provides adequate quality and quantity of water. One major source is from surface water, such as ponds and streams.



(Don’t) Look Beyond the Surface

Surface water is a result of rainfall, which, as we all know, is variable, and it rains less in drier areas and drought years, when we need water the most. Therefore, it’s desirable to have a constant supply of water rather than the flood-or-drought cycles that come with rain-fed water sources. Here are some ways to maximize surface water for your livestock.

Ponder the possibilities. Ponds are a highly desirable feature on the farm. They not only provide livestock with water, but can also be used for firefighting, fishing, boating, swimming, irrigation, and simple enjoyment. A well-designed and well-maintained pond is a thing of beauty, and quite often the focal point of a farmstead. Unfortunately, most pasture ponds are nothing more than feces-laden mudholes that do a poor job of providing for all the tasks listed above. The primary problem with most pasture ponds is unrestricted livestock access. (See “Don’t Muddy the Waters,” below).





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