Techniques can make watering livestock more efficient


LITTLE ROCK – Caring for livestock is a lot like caring for your family: You have to give them the resources they need so they can effectively fend for themselves when you aren’t there.

With livestock, this includes providing watering sources that don’t harm them or the surroundings. Many farmers have ponds where they let livestock water, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind when allowing cattle and other livestock access.

“Most livestock farmers have one or more ponds on their property for livestock watering,” said Dirk Philipp, assistant professor of the Department of Animal Science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “However, these ponds actually serve a variety of purposes. While they provide water for livestock, they also collect runoff and sediments as well as lessen the sediment loss to larger waterways. Farmers sometimes use the ponds for fishing or other recreation for their family and friends, too.”

If livestock are allowed to drink from the ponds whenever they like, they will contaminate the water and could transmit disease or parasites to other animals and even people.

“What you usually see is cattle loafing around or in ponds even during relatively cool temperatures, especially when grazing on toxic tall fescue,” Philipp said. “What happens when you let them have unrestricted access is the lifespan of the pond is reduced. They damage the vegetation on the banks, which helps filter sediments, and they damage the banks themselves, which is costly to repair.”

Livestock that linger in pond water also experience hoof softening, which can cause them to contract disease or injure themselves. While these issues can cause problems, they can be avoided and allow farmers to use their ponds to water livestock when a few precautions are used.

“There should be an overall farm management plan that determines the layout of pastures, water access point locations and cross-fencing,” Philipp said. “A plan will determine the location of water access points for years to come and help prolong healthy stock and pastures.”

Part of that plan can include watering devices that will help offset the issues of unrestricted access by livestock. Floating fences can be constructed from PVC pipe that allows cattle access to only a small part of the pond. In the area that’s fenced, the farmer can place gravel where the cattle will walk into the pond; outside this area, an electric fence can be installed to keep cattle from accessing the rest of the pond.

Tire tanks also can be connected to the pond. Essentially, tire tanks are large, old tires placed on concrete pads, which creates a round tank. Water is then piped through the back wall of the pond on the downslope side and connected with the tire tank. While this watering device does require some concrete, plumbing and installation, the tanks are hardy, will last a long time and can be constructed easily by farmers.

“There are many other watering devices that can be connected to a pond or existing waterlines,” Philip said. “In some cases, farmers can get financial help in installing improved watering devices. To find out, contact me or a county extension agent.”

For more information about water livestock using ponds, visit extension’s Web site, www.uaex.edu, or contact your county extension agent.