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Dependability and mobility versus cost

Last month I told you about my favourite gravity-fed watering system. It is the most dependable and least-cost system that I have used. Today I will go into a couple of other systems that I use at Greener Pastures.

A few years ago mobility became an important feature of a watering system for me. I wanted to be able to move it around with the cattle and do it as quickly and as easily as possible.

Today, my business is growing and labour is becoming a bigger issue than cost. With eight different grazing cells to manage, I am now trying to reduce the amount of labour required by installing more permanent water systems. In a business sense, I am now trying to replace labour with capital.

However, when I need a mobile water system, I still have my small fleet of solar-powered rock pickers. Yes, I do own three rock pickers and no tractor. These solar-powered watering systems are mounted on old-style rock pickers that I picked up for next to nothing. Each one was found in a farmer’s bush and had not been used for at least 15 years. Add a toolbox, mount the solar system, replace the tires and you have a very mobile watering system.

Each one only holds about 150 gallons of water but it fills quite quickly. It is heavy so if you dig the tires into a bit of a hole, it is very difficult for the cattle to move it. It is low so the calves can drink from it. When I wanted more volume, I welded in a fitting to set up a gravity feed to a larger trough. That way I could creep-water the calves out of the rock picker and allow the cows to water from the trough.

I have one warning for you, be very careful if you set this system up around electric fencing. If it does move a little bit from the cattle and touches the fence, it can become a high-powered “energy” drink. Take some extra time to ensure that there is no chance the fence can contact the rock picker.

This system has worked well for me for about eight years now. I will warn you that solar systems require maintenance and electrical ends can become corroded. It seems that my solar systems always go down the day I am trying to get away on a camping trip.

I would have sworn that it was the best system ever when I had smaller herds. But as my herds became larger, dependability became an issue, especially in the fall. The days are getting shorter so you’re panels are not capturing as much sunlight and the calves or yearlings are getting bigger so they require more water. There is also a good chance that the water level in your dugout is getting lower at this time, so the pump has to push the water to a greater height, which requires more energy. With three strikes against you in the early fall, you are bound to run into some problems if you do not compensate by adding more solar panels.

I guess that is why solar is now number three on my list of watering systems after the gas-powered pump. It’s not just the initial cost either. Buying replacement batteries every couple of years is not cheap.

Does that sound like Greener Pastures is not being very environmentally conscientious? Maybe, but dependability and cost have veto power on my ranch.

I do like the solar system for winter watering. I have one set up as a wet well with a motion sensor. I also have one of my rock pickers that can be set up with a motion sensor to go to work when the dugouts are frozen. The trick with this is to make sure the water line completely drains each time the pump shuts off and to insulate the pipe at the water level. A couple of small straw bales work well for insulation. You do not need to buy an expensive insulated tube.

The wet well works great, but motion sensors have some issues. From the name, you can guess that the water system turns on with motion. As the cattle walk up to drink, the pump turns on. When they leave, the pump turns off and the water from the bowl drains back to the water source. No freeze-up. The down side is that any type of motion will turn the system on, including snow, wind and rain which can drain your batteries. No system is foolproof.

Of course, many of you will have your back up by now that I have not mentioned a pipeline as one of my favorite systems. Yes, I do love a pipeline, as it is usually very dependable, and sometimes very cost effective. When looking at cost, be aware that sometimes you already have the pumping system. If you don’t, the costs can be quite high. If you are connecting to your existing house system then the pipeline might be you least expensive and most dependable choice. You need to make sure your water source is reliable.

My advice is to put money into the most dependable system you can afford. If your water well can only produce a small amount of water, another source might be a better investment. I don’t have many pipelines operating because most of my land is rented and water is hard to get in my area. Many of my landowners have wells that produce very little volume if they have a well at all. So you may want to seek someone else’s advice on pipelines. My only warning is not to cheap out on the diameter of the water line. The larger the diameter, the less resistance and therefore the more volume you can move over a greater distance.

Inch and a half or two-inch line is all I use. And do not forget to size your system for potential expansion. Also keep in mind that you do not always need a pump with a pipeline. A gravity-fed system can move water for miles and with enough elevation difference can yield the pressure of a fire hose at the bottom.

Of course, the most important water system on my ranch has something to do with three little kids, a cattle trough (a. k. a. a swimming pool) and a whole lot of fun for all. Best wishes!

Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Grazing Management in

Busby, Alta.,,780-307-6500,

email [email protected]



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