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Water pumps systems can improve riparian areas, provide higher quality water for livestock

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“What we have to understand is if we have existing water quality issues, adding a pumping system is not going to fix that problem,” said Canfax Research Services Manager Brenna Grant. 

Grant was featured during a water quality presentation sponsored by Beef Cattle Research Council, where she presented on different types of water pumps, as well as how to determine if a pump is a worthwhile investment for producers. 

Water and cattle health

Grant explained it’s very important for producers to understand the close relationship between water intake and food intake. 

“Improved water palatability increases both water and food consumption,” said Grant. “In one study calves with access to clean, pumped water were on average 18 pounds heavier at weaning time.” 

Grant continued, “As cows drink more water, they spend more time eating and therefore produce more milk for their calves.”

Grant explained it is important to understand if the water has an undesirable taste, cows are going to drink less. She noted a number of quality issues can affect the taste and overall quality of the water, which causes them to drink less. 

“The effectiveness of any water treatment in improving cattle weight gains appeared to be related to improved water palatability,” Grant said.

Benefits of pumps

“One of the key benefits of adding a pump system to an existing water source is increased water source life,” Grant said. “Pumps can also decrease localized soil erosion.” 

Grant noted pumps are also a safer alternative for winter watering because heavily iced over water can pose a threat for injury.

“Water pumps can also be beneficial to the environment as they can lure cattle away from other sources such as rivers and creeks,” said Grant. “Cows will often poop in the water, which runs the risk of moving downstream and spreading bacteria.” 

She noted cows often choose a trough or tank over other types of watering systems which can be beneficial to delicate riparian ecosystems. 

“When given a choice, cattle will drink from a trough eight times out of 10, even if they have access to surface water,” according to Grant. 

“An off-site watering system away from wetlands, creeks and rivers can maintain the integrity and supply of those systems,” said Grant. “But if cattle have never seen a trough before, training them to drink from one is necessary.”

Economics by system 

“There are a number of different systems producers can choose from to best fit their programs,” said Grant. “The estimated costs can range between $9,500 and $14,000 but can go up or down depending on the availability of materials in a specific area and whether or not an aeration system is put in place as well.” 

She noted the cost of these systems does not include the cost on a well. 

“It has been determined a herd of 100-plus is needed to make adding a pump system economically beneficial,” she said. “For example, a herd of 50 would take 10 years to pay off an underground pipe and a lot of things can happen in 10 years.”

“The five-year net benefits were also shown to be negative for 50 pair herds,” she explained. “And even with 100 pairs, that net-benefit is still negative with the more expensive underground pipe system.” 

Effects on ADG

“We know the more water cattle drink, the more they eat. But a 2005 study on cow/calf pairs further proved this theory,” said Grant 

She explained the study was conducted in two periods in the summer and compared pairs with access to pumped water to those with direct access to surface water. 

“In this study, both cows and calves showed additional gains,” she said. 

She explained the cows gained a total of 22 and 26 pounds in periods one and two respectively. This came out to cows that were nearly 50 pounds heavier.

“The calves also experienced gains and were 16 pounds heavier at the end of the two periods,” Grant explained. 

“With steers the study compared treated and untreated pump systems,” said Grant. “Steers in the first quarter untreated group gained one-fourth of what their treated counterparts gained,” Grant commented. “The second period yielded less dramatic results and the untreated steers actually gained slightly more.” 

The final totals for the untreated and treated groups were 10 and 20 total pounds gained respectively, according to Grant. 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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