Planned paddocks, good fencing, improved forages, grazing management, pasture fertility, and livestock genetics are all important elements when maximizing a grazing system.
Water distribution, however, is arguably one of the most important elements of pasture-based livestock systems.
Pasture water systems needs vary based on livestock species, availability of electric, soils, water supply needed, and travel distance to water. Water systems should be developed based on individual farm resources, as each farm is unique.
In southern and eastern Ohio, spring systems are the most often developed water sources and can provide adequate, low cost, low maintenance water systems.
Water quality and quantity are major considerations when developing a spring. The first question to answer concerning spring development: Is this site worth developing?
If a spring is not running in July and August, it may be an intermittent spring and would have limited production. Creating enough storage capacity for a poor-producing spring can be costly.
When possible, try to develop springs at high elevations, which will allow the spring to gravity flow to lower tanks, potentially supplying water to many paddocks.
There are many water tank options, whether pressurized or gravity systems. The correct tank to use depends on the livestock species and the time of year you want to provide water.
You can find suggestions for planning travel distance to water but in general, less distance to water equals better pasture use and less reserve volume needed in the tank. Often we set a goal of 600 feet or less to water and less is best.
Used, heavy, earth-moving tires are frequently used as water tanks and can be relatively inexpensive and freeze resistant.
Plan the livestock rotation system identifying the areas of the farm where freeze-proof systems will be needed.
Winter watering systems vary in susceptibility to freeze. Many frost-free waterers use geothermal energy to keep the system from freezing and the resistance to freeze varies in each.
Water systems should have the ability to be drained, with lines that can be easily shut off.
If concerned about the quality of the water, have it analyzed. The local OSU Extension office can provide laboratories capable of analyzing livestock water.
Cost to develop a spring will vary and can range from $2,500 to $3,000 per spring or more, depending on the tank selection.
Using a pond
Ponds are often used as a source for livestock water where there are no springs.
Livestock owners like ponds as a watering source partially because they also have a recreational use value and can provide ample water any time of year. However, soils, drainage and cost can limit the practicality of ponds.
We have plenty of examples of poorly designed ponds that don’t hold water due to limitations in soil resources, and we have ponds with poor dike and overflow designs that become severely damaged in rain events.
If you think a pond is what you need, contact the local Soil and Water Conservation office for advice.
Ponds may be completely fenced off from livestock and piping used to deliver water. The best water in a pond is located near the center and about 2 feet below the surface.
Granting livestock unlimited access to ponds and streams can cause bank erosion and water quality issues. For streams and ponds, consider developing limited water access points using fencing, geotextile fabric and stone.
As with springs, water quality can be an issue when using ponds and streams.
Plan your water distribution systems in conjunction with paddock development so that multiple paddocks will have access to one water system.
Visit other farms
The best advice in developing your water is to visit farms that have well-planned systems.
When observing various farm systems, pay attention to shut-off locations, tank valve systems, overflow construction, paddock use and ground stabilization around the tanks.
For help in designing a livestock watering system, contact the local USDA/NRCS conservationist. Your USDA/NRCS office may also have cost-share incentives available.
The office can also provide farm-implemented examples of properly designed systems for you to view prior to construction.
There is a lot more to cover related to water systems such as construction, installation, calculating supply needs, pipe type, sizing, pumps and connections. When you sit down with a professional at NRCS the best options for these easily overlooked areas will be recommended.
It is costly to build a water system twice. Take your time, do the research, keep it practical and economical, view examples and set down with the folks at NRCS and plan the system.