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Alternative water sources are available for producers following dry summer, fall

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

After weeks of abnormally dry conditions in the West, producers are heading into a historically dry stretch on the calendar, and many are becoming increasingly worried about water supply. 

“A lot of producers are beginning to wonder what they are going to do about their water situation,” says Kansas State University (KSU) Extension Watershed Specialist Ron Graber during an episode of KSU’s Agriculture Today podcast dated Oct. 19. 

During the podcast, Graber offers several suggestions on alternative water sources producers might utilize during fall and winter, following a very dry summer. 

Alternate water sources

“There are a few immediate possibilities, but neither are options producers are going to be eager about,” states Graber. “These include hauling water or drilling a well, and while it may be inconvenient, these might be the only options some producers have.” 

Graber notes putting in tanks and hauling water is an effective short-term solution, while drilling a well is a more permanent, long-term solution.

“This usually involves installing a pump and solar panels, because most of the time, the well we are drilling is not close to electricity,” Graber says. “We try to steer folks in this direction, because 2020 isn’t the only year producers are going to see dry conditions.” 

Other suggestions

In addition to hauling water and drilling wells, Graber also encourages producers to take advantage of dry weather and low water supplies to clean out their ponds. 

“Oftentimes, our stock ponds fill with silt,” he says. “In hot weather, if cattle have full access to the pond, they will wade in to cool off and get away from flies. This degrades the bank, and we lose storage capacity.”

“During dry spells, while the water is low, it is a perfect time to go in and physically clean our ponds out, which will in turn increase water storage capacity,” he adds. “Then, producers are going to want to look at ways to keep cattle out of the pond in the future.” 

Graber says there are a few ways to do this.

“Producers can put a tank below the pond dam and actually restrict access to the pond,” he explains. “They can also create a limited-access point by using a ramp, so cattle can still drink, but they can’t physically get down in the pond.”

Another solution Graber suggests is developing existing springs, although he notes there are some things producers need to keep in mind when doing this.

“Some folks let their cattle drink directly out of the spring while it is seeping out of the hill. But, when they do this, their cattle will tear it up,” he states. “I suggest installing a pipe and physically collecting the water in a tank. This is a more sustainable way to utilize a spring.”

Water consumption calculations

Regardless of the route producers take to get water to their livestock during dry spells, Graber notes there are standard calculations to go by when estimating the quantity of water they will need. 

“We encourage producers to keep a three day supply of water, especially when using a well and solar panels,” Graber explains. 

He notes a general rule of thumb is one gallon of water for every 100 pounds live body weight. 

“There are certainly some factors that will affect this number,” Graber says. “In the summer, cattle will drink more as their ambient temperature rises. A 1,300 pound cow, that might normally drink around 13 gallons of water a day, might drink closer to 20 gallons a day.” 

“Percentage of dry matter in forage and stage in reproductive cycle will also affect water requirements,” he concludes. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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