Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Frost-free nose pump allows cattle to pump their own water

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Cold weather can present challenges for watering cattle, especially in climates where water sources freeze up or areas with no access to electricity for tank heaters.  

Jim Anderson of Rimbey, Alberta, Canada solved this problem 25 years ago by creating an innovative water system in which cattle pump water for themselves from shallow wells – water that never freezes, even at 40 degrees below zero. 

A handy invention

Anderson’s innovation is a piston pump, like the old-fashioned well where a person works the handle up and down to lift water.  

“We modified it so cattle could use their nose to push a lever. This operates the piston pump by raising and lowering the piston in the cylinder, the same as a handle used to do,” he explained.

“Like the old-fashioned hand pump, we have a three-inch cylinder down inside the well. This is how we made this pump frost-free, capturing geothermal heat from the ground and containing this heat all the way up to the surface to keep the water in the pipe from freezing,” he said.

The waterer is a small basin on top of a vertical culvert, with a lever which can be pushed by the cows’ nose. The culvert has two feet above ground, going down to whatever depth is required to make use of ground water or water from the bottom of a pond or dugout nearby.  

Water from the pond is piped horizontally underground to the bottom of the culvert, where it then rises to the same level as the pond surface but will not freeze. A buried collection tank from a spring works also. A regular well can be used, as long as the water level comes up to within 50 feet – and preferably 30 or less feet – from the surface.

“Some ranchers use large pipes, but the typical installation is a road culvert at least 24 inches in diameter, set into the ground. The two factors determining how much geothermal heat one will gain is how deep they go and how big a diameter pipe they take to this depth,” Anderson explained. 

“The bigger the pipe, the more opportunity for heat to rise to keep the water pipe in the center warm enough,” he added.

Utilizing nose pumps

Alvin Lusk, manager of Agricultural Resources at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho, said their cattle facility has two nose pumps.  

He installed the first one about nine years ago and another two years later. 

“Our facility is located near the river, and the water table is fairly close to the surface – around four to 12 feet down. Where we pasture cattle is far enough away from our buildings we didn’t want to run electricity down there for pumping or to keep water tanks heated,” he said.  

“We heard about nose pumps and searched for more information. We got our nose pumps from Anderson and installed them ourselves,” said Lusk.

Lusk further explained he used a backhoe to dig a hole deep enough to get water to come into it, then put the culvert in the hole, nearly 12 feet deep. He then put gravel around it and drilled holes around the bottom end of the culvert to allow water to come into it.

“We dug it as deep as we could with the backhoe because we knew there would be times in the fall when our water table was low. The river is low during this time of year, with irrigation around the area pulling water out of the river,” he explained.

Of the two wells they put in, one goes dry temporarily when the water table drops. 

“The other pump works year-round, and we can make both of them work all year if we plan ahead,” said Lusk. “If we know we’ll be putting cattle near the one that might go dry, we start running the pivot in the field next to it so the water table rises.”

Benefits of nose pumps

Lusk pointed out it took some time to train cows to use the first nose pump.  

“We fenced them into a small area with just the nose pump for water,” he shared. “When they got thirsty, we’d pump a little by hand. They knew the water was there. They’d drink it and we’d pump a little more until a few figured it out and the rest copied them.”

Young calves aren’t as strong, but yearling cattle or older have no problem. 

“Once you have two or three that can do it, they teach the others,” Lusk said.

He further noted this invention allows the university to practice winter grazing.

“It’s a pasture where we’ve tried a lot of different things, but this worked the best,” he noted. “There haven’t been any breakdowns or problems, and there is no maintenance required at all. In earlier years, the cattle were drinking from the river, and in cold weather, we had to be out there chopping ice every day.”

This pasture gets cut once for hay in the spring and regrows for fall and winter feed. The second cutting is left in the pasture and raked into windrows. The cattle start grazing windrows in October and graze through December.  

The nose pumps are a foolproof water source in winter, but they are also nice in the summer because cattle can be kept out of the river. 

“We don’t have to worry about them damaging the river bank or getting manure in the river,” said Lusk.

Lusk explained the second nose pump at the university provides water for winter grazing on corn. 

“Sometimes there will be a little ice around it on really cold days, but it still works. Here in Rexburg, Idaho it can be 20 degrees below zero or well below freezing for 40 days or more, and we don’t have any problems,” said Lusk.  

Nose pumps won’t work in all situations, however. They need a water table or water source that’s not too deep. 

“There are many situations where this would work, since winter water is often a challenge,” Lusk concluded. 

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

  • Posted in Animal Health
  • Comments Off on Frost-free nose pump allows cattle to pump their own water
Back to top