The idea of installing shallow-buried pasture pipelines to supply livestock with water has caught on in a big way in recent years. Heightened interest in intensive rotational grazing and the introduction of environmental farm plans have been contributing factors. But the clincher has been the word-of-mouth endorsement of producers who have discoved that a pipeline is a practical and economical way to water livestock on pasture.
Howard Ganske of Pasture Pipeline Systems got his start in the business of installing pipelines about 10 years ago when he decided to pipe his own pasture near Cartwright, Man. At the time he was converting cropland to forage and a quarter-section with no natural water source forced the issue.
After experimenting with different ways to get the pipe into the ground, he realized that some type of machine would be necessary to get the job done quickly and easily. He approached the Pembina Valley Conservation District for assistance and the first plow was built. Ducks Unlimited and the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) got behind the initiative and other producers soon became interested when they realized the potential of pasture pipelines. His new UltraPlow PL-24C, manufactured by Empire Welding at North Battleford, Sask., sets the line one foot to 18 inches deep, depending upon the horsepower of the tractor. The unit features hydraulic arms to lift the roll off the ground and hold it in place. The pipe is pulled from the front of the roll through curved tubing along the back of the shank to protect it as it goes into the ground. He closes the furrow by running the tractor tire down each side to push the earth back into place.
Designing your system
There are resource people who have the expertise to help design a pasture pipeline according to your specific requirements. Ganske suggests checking with the PFRA, your conservation association, provincial agriculture department or Ducks Unlimited for detailed information about pressure system requirements and pipe pressure ratings.
In his own experience, the greatest and most common challenge is working around rocks and through stony ridges. Even if it takes more pipe, you’ll save money in the long run if you plan to skirt around these problem areas wherever possible. Hilly terrain, or the necessity to push water uphill, is another major consideration when designing a system.
Installing the pipeline in one continuous length is best for water flow and maintenance. The general rule of thumb is to avoid obstructions inside the pipe when connecting to other lines and troughs. For this reason, he prefers to swing a continuous length of pipe around curves with the plow when changing directions. Alternatively, the pipe can be brought out of the ground at the junction and a saddle connector used to join the new length of pipe that will continue in another direction.
Dale Timmerman of the PFRA at Morden, Man., says the five main considerations for a pasture pipeline are:
1. The discharge or flow requirement.
2. The size of the pipe and material from which it is made.
3. The distance from the source to the point of consumption.
4. The elevation difference between the source and the point of consumption and the variation in elevation along the pipeline route.
5. Permanence of the installation. Temporary pipelines can be laid out
above ground. Another option is to run a deep-buried pipeline for winter watering to a certain point in the pasture, then continue the summer waterline from there.
Flexible polyethylene pipe for shallow-buried installations is available in low, medium and high density with various pressure ratings. Low-density pipe is the most flexible, however, high-density pipe is stronger and less expensive. For standard installations,
Ganske uses high-density pipe, which he purchases in 3,000 to 8,000-foot reels. Generally, one-and-a-half-inch diameter pipe works well for simple lines up to about three miles in length.
Most farm water systems operate on pressures of 20 to 40 pounds per square inch (psi). However, you may need as high as 80 psi when pumping over long distances or uphill. The optimal water velocity is about five feet per second. Water flowing much faster than this will result in high friction losses and wear, whereas lower velocities can lead to an accumulation of sludge in the line.
Lots of variables come into play when figuring out the cost of a pasture pipeline in comparison with other livestock watering systems.
Installing a pipeline around rocks and roots and up and down hills and valleys takes longer, and costs more than straightforward systems on level landscapes. Ganske has been able to plow in as many as three miles of pipeline a day when conditions are ideal.
You’ll be a step ahead if you already have a good well or water body from which to draw the water. If at all possible, Ganske suggests designing the pipeline so that it can be quickly hooked into an alternative water source somewhere along the line if your main pump goes down. This is a very important consideration for producers who have no other source of water within their pasture systems. In one intensive grazing operation, the extra 1,000 feet of pipe laid to connect to a backup well proved to be worth the investment when the pump on the primary well went on the blink. All the producer had to do was open the valve to the backup well, which gave him lots of time to repair the main system.
Electrical pumps are most common, but solar and wind-driven units are available for remote locations and the operating cost for these will be lower. Remote-start generators are another alternative.
Running the line with quick-couplers for risers to use with a portable water trough at a number of watering sites is the least-expensive setup because you’ll need only one trough. Permanent troughs installed at strategic locations within your pasture system would likely be the most convenient arrangement.
A comparative look at dugouts versus pipelines in the Peace River region was published by the PFRA in 2001. It shows that the cost of running a pipeline from an existing farmstead water system to supply two quarters of pasture and 100 cows is only about a third of the cost of excavating two 1,500-cubic metre dugouts with remote watering systems to supply the same. Expenses for the pipeline begin to add up if you have to run it further than about two kilometres between an existing water source and the pasture, or if a new water system or electrical supply has to be developed.
Water quality from a well-maintained farmstead well or dugout is usually of better quality than that from a pasture dugout. Numerous producers will attest to the fact that weight gains and conception rates improve and there are fewer foot rot problems when cattle drink good-quality water from troughs as opposed to wading into dugouts and sloughs.
Water quantity from a deep well or large dugout is more secure in dry years than from smaller pasture dugouts. There is no risk of cattle getting bogged down in mud holes when sloughs and creeks begin to dry up. It’s flexible in that water can be delivered almost anywhere within the pasture, making it feasible to set up cross fencing for rotational grazing systems.
A pressurized pipeline is easy to install and operate. A meter can be added to monitor water consumption, which can be an indicator of potential livestock health problems before they become visible.
If the electrical power supply is interrupted, you will need a backup, whether it be hooking into an alternative water or power source, allowing access to a water body, or firing up your old water truck.
Float valves in the stock tanks are susceptible to damage from livestock and freezing in late fall, whereas there are no mechanical parts to worry about when cattle have limited direct access to a pasture dugout.
A pipeline requires regular monitoring and seasonal maintenance, namely draining the water from it before freeze-up.
It’s safest to drain shallow-buried and overland pipelines before freeze up to prevent ice expansion from cracking the pipe, connections and other components. Low-density pipe has some give, but you’ll definitely run into problems if you leave water in high-density pipes. The most effective way to do this is to use an air compressor to push a sponge-foam pig through the line. This also helps to remove the buildup of crud in the line that over time will restrict water flow, Ganske says.
Gravity drainage is an alternative to compressed air. It may be the only way to get the job done in pipelines running over hilly terrain. Special attention to grade, drain valves in low points and air-release valves at high points is crucial in the planning stage.
At spring startup, gradually fill the line with water to prevent a burst of air or water from damaging the fittings. This may take a while depending upon the length of the line. Opening a riser or a valve at the end of the line will prevent air locks by allowing the air to escape as the pipeline fills. When the water flow is steady at the end of the pipe, you’ll know the line is full of water and you’re set for another grazing season.
For more information contact Howard Ganske, 204-529-2464.