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Get gravity to move water where you need it

The turkey's nest is a form of gravity flow for when you have no elevation to work with.

My favourite type of water system is a gravity flow. You know me, cheap and reliable is always my favourite. I will describe the setup and operation of two types of gravity-flow systems. We will first look at a true gravity flow from a dam or dugout and then we will look at how we set up a turkey’s nest, for all of you flatlanders.

If I acquire a new piece of land that requires some water development, I first look to see if I can set up a dam to support gravity flow. I look for an area where the snowmelt or rainfall runs off with relatively high volume. If I can find a suitable location, I hire a backhoe to come in and dam up an area to hold back water. It is much cheaper to dam up an area than it is to dig a dugout.

I never want to see a dugout, or a dam, at the bottom of the hill; which is where most people place them. If you place it partway up the hill, with an area downhill for the trough, it will allow for a gravity flow. Make sure that when you make your dam, the overflow point will not wash it away. This requires the overflow point to be on solid undisturbed clay, or for a culvert to be installed at the top of your dam to allow for overflow. Once the dam is constructed and you have it full from run-off, the operation is quite simple.

If you follow along with me on the illustration you might actually make sense of this (see below). The top of the water line, or inlet, is fitted with a screen, a float and a weight, which allows it to float about a foot or two under the surface. Be careful that the inlet is never allowed to suck air or you will lose your siphon. As the season progresses and your water level drops, your inlet stays just under the surface. The water line then goes up over the dam and down to the water trough. Here the float valve restricts the flow when the trough is full.



Warning!!! Make sure you have a well-mounted trough and a protected float valve. If the trough is moved or the float valve is broken, it can cause the trough to overflow and you can empty your dugout in a weekend. Been there, done that!

Also, if your float gets a hole in it and does not float so well anymore, there goes your water. My advice is to fill the float with mono-foam. I should say half fill it with mono-foam. I dare you to try to fill it right up. This way it will always float, even if a black bear chews holes in it.

In the spring I use one of my gas-powered pumps to prime the siphon. I have found that a simple plastic shutoff valve at the inlet of the pipe turns this into a one-person job. Remove the inlet screen and attach the pump ensuring that the shutoff valve is still on the hose. Open the valve. Turn on the pump to fill the water line and push out all of the air. Now as you shut off the pump, close the valve on the line at the same time. This will allow you to remove the inlet from the pump, reattach the screen and place it in the water without losing the siphon (like plugging the top end of a drinking straw so the juice does not flow out). Open the valve again as you place the inlet back into the water. Without the valve it is a mad scramble to get the hose into the water and then to attach the screen under water, which almost always causes air pockets that are hard to get out. Alternatively, you could have someone hold the float valve at the trough closed while you reattach the screen (plug the bottom end of the straw). Then open the valve and let your siphon flow. And you’re done! Your new gravity-flow system is at work. If it is set up right, it will be worry free all summer.

The turkey’s nest is another version of a gravity flow for when you don’t have any elevation to work with.

In my area, every quarter of land pretty much has a dugout on it somewhere. Usually when you need to make a dugout, you bring in a track hoe and dig a hole in the ground that usually leaves you with a big pile of clay next to your water source. At a couple of sites I have used this clay pile as a storage tank, or a turkey’s nest.

I get the hoe operator to hollow out the middle of the pile and then line it with silage plastic. This gives you an elevated water reserve to siphon out of. I also recommend putting a page wire fence around it to protect the plastic from wildlife. Once the turkey’s nest is built, the operation is simple.

I run two separate water systems. The first one uses a gas-powered pump to fill the turkey’s nest. You need an inlet hose with a screen, float and weight, and then a discharge hose pumping into the nest. Depending on the size of the nest, I usually just estimate the amount of fuel needed to fill the nest, then I start the pump and walk away. I like to have a three- or four-day supply of water in the nest and I always make sure that the overflow point on the nest allows the water to drain back into the dugout.

When the nest is full I then set up a separate gravity-flow system to a trough with a float valve. To prime the siphon, it is easier to remove the end of the siphon hose at the trough and haul it over to the pump. Connect it and pump water backwards up into the nest. When the hose is full shut off the pump, disconnect and return the end to the trough. The siphon keeps flowing as the bottom end is disconnected and the inlet remains in the nest under water. The key to this system is never let your nest run dry as you will lose your siphon. The main difficulty with this set up is protecting your plastic liner. I have had to replace one a couple times now.

Both of these systems are relatively inexpensive and mostly worry free. When you have five different grazing cells with 26 different watering sites, “cheap, easy and reliable” is a welcome thought.

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Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta.,, 780-307-6500, email [email protected] or find them on Facebook.

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Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta. You can email him at [email protected] or call 780-307-6500.

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