The key to animal health, grazing distribution and forage management is readily available, adequate supplies of quality water.

The planning and design of a stock water system may be complex and a significant investment. It is very important they be properly planned and designed, and be as economical as possible.


When planning a stock water pipeline, it is always important to follow good resource planning procedures. The planning procedure involves defining objectives, performing an inventory of resources including types of animals, grazing period, area to be serviced, location and details of existing water sources.

After inventory, the designer must evaluate the system alternatives by calculating the herd water quantity requirements, design flow rate and storage requirements.

The quantity of stock water required during any given period depends on the type and number of stock, climatic conditions and amount of natural water available.


Minimum daily stockwater requirements

It has also been found that water usage is higher for stock in an intensive grazing system.

In general, the recommended daily water requirements of livestock in Nebraska are presented in Table 1.

Maximum water facility spacing

Table 2  provides guidelines pertinent to spacing of watering facilities.

The minimum pipeline design flow rate must be at least equal to the flow rate, in gallons per minute, required to provide the peak daily water requirements in a 24-hour period for the maximum number of livestock in the pasture.

It is often desirable to design for a higher flow rate to allow tanks to refill more rapidly during times of peak usage. Reasonable practice is to design pipeline flow rates to provide the full daily water needs in a four-hour, six-hour or 12-hour period.

Flow rate required for daily needs

Figure 1 shows flow rates required to meet daily needs in a six-hour period. This figure assumes a 10 percent loss for evaporation and waste.

The capacity of the water storage facilities within a pasture must be determined on an individual basis in close consultation with the operator. In general, water storage capacity or other water sources in a pasture should be provided to meet water requirements for a minimum of three days where water supply, pipeline, power or pump failure could cause loss of pipeline-supplied water.

Minimum storage volume will depend on the reliability of the source, the hazards of exposure of the pipeline, reliability of the supply, management provided by the operator and how easy it is to move livestock if the water supply fails.

Approximate total stock water requirements for various storage periods

These factors should be thoroughly discussed with the operator. Figure 2 shows approximate total stock water requirements for various storage periods (three-day and seven-day).

General volumes of circular thanks

After determining storage volume, the tank size can be selected. Table 3 provides general volumes of circular tanks.

By using the appropriate planning process, a designer can focus on the many engineering alternatives to determine the appropriate water source and design a system’s power, pipeline and water delivery methods.

Source of water

The importance of good, reliable water sources to successful livestock operations cannot be overstated. Since sources of livestock water vary greatly in cost, quantity and quality, they are major considerations for farmers and ranchers.

Wells, ponds, streams and public water systems are all options. The locations of operations, the lay of the land and the types of soil on farms may limit the number of options.

Transfer (pipelines)

Decisions regarding installing pipelines may be the most important decisions ranchers make in designing their water delivery systems. Well-designed pipelines take dependable water to the livestock on pasture, making them the key point in future operation and flexibility of grazing management. Stockwater pipelines come in many configurations and sizes.

They may consist of anything from a short piece of pipe between a spring and stock tank to many miles of pipelines, with pressures exceeding 200 psi. Design may be as critical for a short pipeline as for a long one.

Water delivery and storage

A variety of livestock water tanks are available to fit the watering needs and specific site characteristics of farms. The first step producers must take toward selecting tanks that are best for their livestock operations is to determine how large tanks need to be to serve their herds.

With the various types of livestock, herd sizes, water sources and tank locations, one type of tank will not fit all watering needs. Producers need to evaluate all of the sources in order to determine which types of tanks are best for them. Areas around tanks, ponds and streams occasionally need to be protected by gravel or concrete pads. Pads provide firm footing for animals, and they reduce erosion around tanks.  end mark

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Nate Garrett
Civil Engineer