With every storm that blows through, we hope it brings precipitation to fill the soil profile and the ponds. But no … not yet. Maybe it is like the old adage of “a watched pot never boils.” Maybe we should try to focus our attention on the opportunities this drought brings.

Regarding livestock watering, there are a number of things we can do now to better prepare for future droughts.

All require time and effort, but if they can relieve stress from our lives and benefit our livestock, isn’t that time and effort well spent?

Let’s take a few moments away from your daily grind and focus on approaches that can provide water to new areas or improve your existing watering situation.

One of the easiest options is to extend water pipelines to your pasture or feeding area. A pipeline typically delivers water from pump systems on the ranch or from a public water system like rural water and sometimes a line from a pond.


The monthly cost of the electricity to pump water is relatively cheap, even compared to the cost of pond construction and maintenance.

Although producers do not like to think about the monthly cost of water bills, rural water can be a wise, economical choice.

Pipelines often cost about $2 per linear foot to get the pipe installed ($1 for the pipe and $1 for the trench and installation).

If the system is being installed for occasional or emergency use only, producers may want to install a freeze-proof hydrant at the site so when it is shut off, there is no need to winterize. The stock tanks can be installed temporarily during the time of need and then removed.

Solar pumps
Many producers are investigating old well and windmill sites. Although these sites may not produce the water they did in the past, they are worth considering.

Many windmill well sites are no longer in use, but the reason may be the windmill failing mechanically and nothing more. In those cases, the solar pump systems offer a real possibility.

Most solar pumps for these uses are submersible and require at least 3-inch to 5-inch casing openings. In order to economically justify a solar pump system, the site needs to be more than a quarter-mile away from an electric power source.

The basic solar pump system will cost $2,500 to $3,500. If the water is deeper than 200 feet, the cost of additional solar panels to meet the needs for increased pumping lift increase as well.

Recently, some producers have mounted their solar pump system on a trailer to make it easier to move from pasture to pasture.

Be sure to check the well recharge rate before making the investment in the well site. Calculate the necessary recharge rate by estimating the daily water consumption of the livestock (gallons per head per day times number of head).

Well construction
Drilling a new well is always a consideration where groundwater is available. The well drillers seem to be in big demand at this time with more wells to drill than they have time.

The local driller and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment office, where the well logs are sent, can be reasonable places to start (click here) for information.

The cost of drilling a well is about $2,500 plus about $20 per foot for depths beyond 120 feet.

Improving pond watering systems
Improved water quality provided by tanks compared to ponds, with their mud, manure and sediment, have been shown to improve calf gains. When given a choice, livestock prefer to drink from tanks.

Add a pipeline through the dam
A pipeline through the dam allows for installation of a livestock waterer below the pond. The process can be achieved with ponds that are full or low without losing 100 gallons of water during the process.

If the pond is to be cleaned, it is a great time to also install a line through the dam. In most cases, the process requires a length of pipe with a riser system and valve, plus about a half-day of contractor time.

Contractors can often install additional sites in about two hours after the initial project experience. We recommend using at least 1½-inch pipe but prefer using 2-inch PVC pipe.

All ponds with pipelines through the dam should also have an exclusion fence around the pond.

Gravity-flow waterers below the pond
For ponds that have the slope and site to install a waterer below the pond, the type of waterer is an important consideration.

There are concrete tanks, tire tanks, plastic super-insulated tanks and regular plastic or metal stock tanks. Refill rate of a tank system is the most important factor in determining whether the tank size and volume of water is compatible.

Fencing out the pond
In addition to the lack of rainfall, ponds become shallower and require cleaning over time when livestock have full access.

Failure to install an exclusion fence will allow livestock to continue to stomp the edges of the pond, causing the sediment to move to the deeper parts of the pond and promote an even wider, shallow beach edge.

In a number of years, the pond will again need to be cleaned out. From our observations, it seems that ponds that cattle can access and stand in lose water to evaporation faster than those with exclusion fences and grass up to the water’s edge.

Exclusion fences do not need to be installed close to the shoreline of the pond. Producers should consider wider areas around a pond to encourage easier chemical and mechanical brush control. Larger fenced areas can facilitate flash grazing on a seasonal basis.

Limited access to the pond
For ponds that do not have the slope and elevation change for a gravity-fed water tank below a pond (these ponds are often called “pit ponds”), consider a “limited pond access.”

A limited pond access is like a boat ramp installed into the side of the pond for cattle to use to get down to the water and drink.

We have a recommended process that should withstand years of use. The process uses geotextile fabric on the surface of the soil, semi-trailer tires with one sidewall and bead removed, and gravel.

If they can be installed now when the pond is low, you can ensure safe access for drinking when the pond is full.

Cleaning out the pond
During the drought could be the ideal time to clean a pond. The cost of cleaning a pond is great and often is more than estimated. In the past, ponds were the answer to most cattlemen’s water needs.

Ponds built or cleaned in the present economy should incorporate practices that will extend their life. It is also the time to repair or install a primary spillway tube through the dam.

More information about ponds and the other practices discussed in this article can be found under the Pond and Livestock Watering section at the KSU beef website.

In addition to your watershed specialists, your local Extension and NRCS staff can provide additional information and may also be able to advise producers about cost-share or financial assistance that might be available.  end mark

Will Boyer, Jeff Davidson, Ron Graber and Stacie Minson are watershed specialists at Kansas State University.

—Excerpts from Kansas State University Research and Extension newsletter Beef Tips, March 2013

Giving cattle full access to a pond can lead to moving sediment. Before long the shallow ends of a pond are gone. Photo by David Cooper.

Herschel George
Watershed Specialist
Kansas State University