Extension and Ag Research News


Drought Creates Livestock Water Supply, Access Issues

Producers need to make sure their livestock have a good water supply and easy access to it.

Cattle producers need to make sure their animals have not only a good supply of water, but easy access to it as well, North Dakota State University livestock experts say.

""The lower water table created by last year's drought has exposed unstable soil,"" says Karl Hoppe, Extension Service area livestock specialist at NDSU's Carrington Research Extension Center. ""The cows and calves are having difficulty in accessing water."

He recommends producers check ponds and dugouts regularly.

Karlyle Erickson, an NDSU Extension animal systems agent from Pierce County, says mud on grazing cattle's legs, bellies and sides are likely signs that water in ponds or bogs is low or the animals are having trouble getting to the water.

Low water levels also can affect water quality, which could have an impact on cattle performance and health, he says.

Spring runoff, combined with thunderstorms, has helped recharge surface water in many pastures. However, producers should consider permanent solutions to the water supply and access problem, Hoppe and Erickson say.

""Options to fix pasture water problems are seldom easy or cheap and have to be thought of as long-term investments,"" Erickson advises. ""The best water development options will vary by the planned need and use of the pasture, availability of power, depth and availability of ground water, cost and a host of other considerations."

Hauling water to the cattle usually is considered an emergency, temporary measure because the cost and time commitment can be high, he adds.

Here are some options for producers:

  • Periodically clean and redig ponds and dugouts to improve their capacity and longevity because cattle going in and out of a dugout can cause sediment to get into the water.
  • Fence cattle out and pump water to a tank to help conserve water, protect the dugout and enhance water quality.
  • Restrict livestock's access to the water to a sloped, graveled area.
  • Lay shallow water lines to move water from a good well to dry pastures. This allows producers to place water taps at multiple locations for controlled rotational grazing. Lack of water access in subdivided pastures is the major obstacle to rotational grazing, which is a practice that can increase stocking rates by 15 percent to 20 percent, Hoppe says.
  • Drill wells and install fresh water tanks and watering points.

Hoppe says the last option is a major investment, and access to electric power, well depth and water quality can be major concerns. He suggests producers consider wells powered with propane-driven generators, wind mills or solar energy in locations far from electrical power.

Producers should check with their local soil conservation office and Natural Resources Conservation Service about the availability of cost-share programs and technical assistance. Producers also should contact drillers and contractors as soon as possible to ensure they'll be available to do the necessary work.

""Enhancing pasture utilization and grazing management through water development both addresses immediate needs and enhances economic opportunities in the future,"" Erickson says.

Agriculture Communication

Source:Karlyle Erickson, (701) 776-6234, karlyle.erickson@ndsu.edu
Source:Karl Hoppe, (701) 652-2951, karl.hoppe@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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