Numerous livestock producers use remote watering systems to provide an alternative watering source to watering directly out of natural waterbodies such as creeks and springs. One of the largest criticisms of the remote watering systems is a lck of trust in the technology and the need to frequeenlty check the system to ensure battery recharge and pump function. If either of these two parts fail, cattle can be without water for an extended period of time.
Producers have expressed a need for an alert system to make monitoring remote watering systems easier. An alert system would increase producer confidence in, and adoption of the technology. It would also reduce the time required for a producer to monitor every watering system placed in operation.
Remote watering systems for grazing livestock have been a recommended beneficial management practice for a number of years and funded under various government grant programs since 2002. A cost appropriate and effective alert system would be a substantial improvement to the watering systems available on the market.
There are many alarm systems designed to monitor various agricultural operations. Alert systems for yard or building entry, grain bins, anad livestock barns are commercially available to alert producers to problems at remote livestock watering sites.
Remote livestock watering site technology provides easier access to water for cattle, and protects water qulaity anda riperian areas around dugouts, creeks and springs. The reliabilty of remote livestock watering systems, however has been identified as a barrier to widepread adoption. Variation in water source levels or stream flow can cause pump intakes to come out of the water. Wildlife can disrupt or damage the watering system. The function of systems powered by solar panels can be affected by successive cloudy days or snow/dust on panles. Algae, weeds and debris in the water source can plug pump intakes, or fuses can blow leaving the pumping system inoperable. Continuous monitoring and an alert system can increase confidence in remote waterers and encourage producers acceptance of the technology.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, supported by Grwoing Forward 2, conducted a pilot project to identify exsisting alarm systems that could be adapted to monitor remote livestock watering sites. Seceral systems were demonstarted ad evaluated on exsisiting producer watering sites. The objectives were to reduce the frequency of physically checking the system, demonstrate the benefits of a reliable remote watering system and give the producer peace of mind through an alert by the monitor when the system experienced problems.
ALARM SYSTEM DESCRIPTION
The parameters monitored were low water level and low system voltage. Three different alarm systems were chosen:
1: A line of site system using a beacon light
2: A cellular system
3: A satellite system
The beacon light monitor lights up and flashes when the system experiences an alrm condition. This is a low cost system that is easy to design and install. The disadvantage is that the notification is limited to the lie of site to the alm system.
The cellular monitor requires the producer to have a cell phone. It sends a text message when the watering system experiences an alrm condition. This system has an easy to use interface with lots of user control to customize settings. It also has several alternate alert method options including telephone, voice and email messages. The system can be polled through telephone or text messaging to report the system status. It has more features than most producers would need, is limited to cellular service areas, has high power requirements and monthly cellular contract charges.
The satellite monitor requires a smart phone to be effective. It sends an email when the system experiences an alarm condition. It is simple to set up and less expensive than the cellular system. It has better remote service coverage than the cellular system and low power consumption. This system does not allow as much user control though and requires external set up by the alarm system company. It has fewer alarm options and has monthly contract charges as well.
PRODUCER FEEDBACK AND OBSERVATIONS
The producers who demonstrated the alarm reported an increased confidence in the remote watering system. The alrm systems saved time by reducing the frequency of site visits and provided the intended peace of mind. The polling feature on the cellular system was a great tool. the producers checked the system voltage remotely and planned battery charging intervention. One problem was identified with the low water level sensor on all the sytems during freezing conditions. the sensor has the potential to freze into the ice and the low water alert as not sent. It is still a good practice to check the water systems regularly even if an alert system is installed.
As with all electronic, the technologies continue to improve and prices continue to drop in time. With greater demand, manufacturers are able to reduce production costs and pass savings on to comsumers. With each new generation it also becomes more user friendly. The systems purchased for this project were just a few samples of what is available in the market.
It is anticipated that the project will raise awareness of the alrm system's potential for remote watering systems with producers, watering system manufacturers and alrm vendors. The objectives are to:
-have vendors see the market potential for remote livestock monitoring systems
-have producers see the value in monitoring systems as a way to make remote livestock watering a more reilaible source of water for their livestock.
-have producers consider the remote livestock watering system tehnology as a best management practice for improving livestock health and performance and project water quality by keeping livestock out of riperian areas around water sources such as springs, dugouts and streams.
This program has been funded by Growing Forward 2 a federal provincial initiative.