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The Economics of Water Systems

Direct surface water access can result in fecal contamination that adds nutrients to the water and reduces palatability and consumption by livestock. Surface water contamination causes both environmental problems and herd health problems. Herd health problems include: increased exposure to water transmitted diseases, bacteria, viruses and cyst infections, blue-green algae toxins, foot rot and reduced weight gain (Alberta Agriculture and Forestry 2007).

Access to clean water can improve cattle herd health, increase weight gain and backfat, Lardner et al. (2005) reported that suckling calves whose dams drank from water troughs gained on average 0.09 lbs. per day more than calves whose dams had direct access to the dugout. Because water and forage intake are closely related, as cows drink more water they also spend more time eating and therefore produce more milk for their calves. Calves with access to clean pumped water were on average 18 lbs. heavier at weaning time.

William et al (2002) evaluated the effect of water selection on cattle weight gains, cow backfat thickness and activity levels under regimes of drinking clean water ( water delivered to trough from a well, pond or dugout), pond water pumped to a trough and direct access to the pond. They found calves, with dams drinking clean water, gained 9% more weight than calves with dams that had direct access to the drinking pond, but now cow weight and backfat thickness were not affected.

Holechek (1980) reported both a decrease in water consumption and weight gain in cattle drinking water from a contaminated water source. Larder et al (2005) found that calves provided water aerated and pumped to a trough in early summer tended to have greater (0.18 and 0.19 lb/day respectively) weight gains than calves drinking directly from the dugout. The effectiveness of any water treatment in improving cattle weight gains appeared to be related to improved water palatability. Improved water palatability increased both water and feed consumption. This suggested that improving water quality with aeration and pumping to a trough will improve weight gain 9-10% over a 90 day grazing period in most years.

Lardner et al (2005) also found that yearling steers had 8-9% higher weight gain whenthey had access to water that had been aoagulated or aerated before it was pumped compared to steers that had driect access only to dugout water. Steers gained 3 % more weight with access to untreated pumped dugout water versus direct dugout access.

Overall, the potential benefits of impementaing a water system include:

Increased weight gain

Improved her health and decrease in disease problems

Enviromental benefits through water source protection anad longer water source life with decreased localiazed soil erosion

Improived pasture usage

Enhanced wilflife habitat

There are a number of different options for watering systems such as wind powered, solar powered, underground pipe and aeration treatments on dugout water.

Windmills use a propeller to convert energy in the wind to power a pump. Windmills have been used to pump from wells for centuries. They can also be used to aerate dugouts and ponds. Windmills are simple and generally require little maintenance. They work well in remote locations . But the site must be free of windbreaks. High variability in wind speeds across the prairies increases the need for storage capacity, more storage capacity is generally required than with solar systems. The number of windmills needed is calculated based on each windmills pumping capacity and the herd size.

Solar panels containing photovoltaic cells convert sunshine into electrical energy to power water pumps. Solar pumps can be operated in remote locations. This kind of watering system is reliable and can provide large volumes of water. This is suitable for cows because they travel more as a herd and come together at the water source. Small watering troughs equipped with a less efficient waterer tend to be insufficient. Wind powered and solar powered pumping systems must suit the environment and management conditions of the operation.

Underground pipeline are buried to a shallow depth to supply water to livestock away from surface source. The water supply can come from either a pump or. gravity flow reservoir placed at an approximated level to get decent flow. A pipeline system is particularly advantageous for producers who split their herds into multiple paddocks, but is less desirable for remote locations, and pipes must be drained in autumn to avoid freezing. It is suggested that it is better off to use underground pipelines close to a yard site, versus a solar powered pump, since it requires less maintenance and lower upkeep costs.

Designing an effective water pipeline system could be complex. Producers will need to consider pipeline length, water requirement, as well as elevation difference between the water source to the storage tank and the variation in elevation along the pipeline route.

Solar powered aeration systems use a solar powered compressor and diffusion system; cattle continue to have direct access to the source or the water can be pumped to a trough. Dugout aeration maintains dissolved oxygen levels, allowing plants and algae to decay under aerobic conditions. As such, aeration prevents the black, smelly water that develops when there is no dissolved oxygen in the dugout water.

A storage tank is normally an essential element in an economically viable water pump system. A tank can be sued to store enough water during peak energy production to meet water needs in the event of cloudy weather or maintenance issues. It also provides the necessary water to livestock between pumping cycles.

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