Photo submitted

Column: winter water for livestock – challenges and solutions

David Zirnhelt discusses ways to keep the cows hydrated when the temperature reaches below zero

One topic covered in the Canadian Cattlemen magazine is winter water. In the October 22 edition of this magazine, there were stories about what some producers are doing in trying to make improvements in their management.

Of course, water can be in the form of snow, if there is enough for the cattle to get their fill.

There are anecdotes of cattle eating hoarfrost on grass because there is no other evidence of available open water. I haven’t had experience with that situation, but others have. I know it doesn’t take much of a trickle to keep cows from walking a mile to a potable source.

Where we are located, we usually have springs starting up after rainfall, so water is not a worry. Even if the ground freezes, springs can seep through the frost and cows can get their fill.

We have to be vigilant so that cows don’t go wandering on ice on lakes, ponds and streams looking for water and risk falling in.

All this aside, hard freezing in a cold snap can leave us wondering how we can get water economically to the herd, however big or small.

Ranchers and livestock owners would rather not worry, and many can be creative about the systems they put in.

Gravity water is nice if you have it, but if you have to pump it and you have not got electricity in a pasture, then things get technical, so to speak.

Last month’s Cattlemen magazine cited a few of the systems people have designed.

The most intriguing is the “nose pump.” This requires a source of water in a well or reservoir buried deep enough not to freeze (in a dug out, or with a flow that is regulated with a drain or a float valve. The water gets heated to the ground temperature).

Deeper is better, and the designers of the nose pump system like to have a 12-foot deep well, three or four feet in diameter.

It doesn’t take cows long when they poke around the pump, which is mounted in a bowl, before they learn that pushing on it yields a flow of water.

Excess water in the bowl when they have finished drinking goes into an overflow and into an underground drain to avoid a buildup of ice. It is a good idea to drain fouled water elsewhere, back into the clean well source to void contamination.

One thing that is essential if using one of the ground-heated insulated drinking fountains is that the intake water must have a certain amount of heat to keep everything from freezing.

Some manufacturers say the water has to be coming out of the ground at about 42 degrees Fahrenheit to keep from freezing. Surface water from a stream can be close to freezing and won’t keep the system thawed.

Even this cold water running through the ground for a kilometre buried four feet won’t warm up. This I can attest to. Perhaps deep burial at 10 feet might warm the supply, but that is lot of digging!

My advice to livestock owners is to keep abreast of developments and get advice from suppliers and government sources.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher in the Cariboo and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus.

READ MORE: How to bring young blood to ranching

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Prince George RCMP is asking for the public’s help to find 29-year-old Colin Michaud Durrand. He has a history of violence and is considered to pose an increased risk to public safety, according to police, who advise the public not to confront Durrand if he is located. (Photo Submitted by RCMP)
Prince George RCMP ask for help locating violent ‘priority offender’ with ties to Quesnel

RCMP says Colin Michaud Durrand, 29, recently lived in Quesnel but may frequent Hixon, Prince George

The outhouse at the Milburn Lake Public Access after the Oct. 17 work bee. Pictured here, from left, are Bouchie Lake Watershed Stewardship Society volunteers Doug Nielsen, Dan Aussant, Richard Armstrong and Bob Ross. (Photo Submitted)
Volunteers fix foundation of Milburn Lake Public Access outhouse

The Bouchie Lake Watershed Stewardship Society recently held a work bee at the site

An air cadet and RCMP officer stand guard over Quesnel’s Cenotaph during the 2019 Remembrance Day ceremonies. The COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled all public memorial ceremonies set for Nov. 11. (File Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Quesnel Remembrance Day ceremonies on hold for 2020

There will be no public event, but residents are encouraged to observe two minutes of silence

Cariboo Regional District Area A Director Mary Sjostrom, School District 28 board chair Dave Chapman and Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson plant ceremonial shovels into the ground at what will become Quesnel’s newest school during a ceremony Tuesday, Oct. 20. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Construction begins on new Quesnel Junior School

A groundbreaking ceremony was held to kick off the two-year project

B.C. Conservative Leader Trevor Bolin and Cariboo North candidate Kyle Townsend were practising proper physical distancing during a campaign stop in Quesnel on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Bolin first party leader to visit Quesnel

The B.C. Conservative Pary’s leader made the stop to support Kyle Townsend

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

(Pixabay)
Vancouver teacher suspended after swearing, touching students and complimenting underwear

McCabe touched students, including rubbing their backs and necks, touching their hair and hugging them

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
2 years after huge highway acid spill, Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast their ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

A 2018 decision to fly a rainbow flag ended up costing the City of Langley $62,000 in legal fees (Langley Advance Times file)
Human rights win in rainbow flag fight cost B.C. city $62,000

“Lengthy and involved” process provoked by complaint

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Most Read