Livestock Watering Systems

Final Report for FNC00-297

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2000: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $36,864.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Steve Chatt: Livestock, 130 head commercial herd (Angus-Tarintase) with about half of the stockers sold and the other half finished or saved for replacements. Pasture: 375 acres cool season, 75 acres of warm season. Other Forage: 80 acres of alfalfa, 150 acres of rented corn stalks. Cropland: 500 acres of corn, 600 acres of soybeans, 150acres of CRP

Vic Jensen: Livestock, 220 head purebred herd (Hereford) with about 160 of the stockers sold and the others finished or saved for replacements, 50 horses. Pastures: 710 acres cool season, 0 acres of warm season. Other Forage: 100 acres of alfalfa, 1200 acres of rented corn stalks. Cropland: 0 acres of corn, 0 acres of soybeans, 218 acres of CRP.

Rollie Jeppesen: Livestock: 90 head commercial herd with about half of the stockers sold and the other half finished or saved for replacements. Pasture: 260 acres of cool season, 90 acres of warm season. Other Forage: 70 acres of alfalfa, 30 acres of corn for grazing, 200 acres of rented corn stalks, 25 acres of experimental forages including other species of grasses and summer annual forages. Cropland: 275 acres of corn, 275 acres of soybeans, 0 acres CRP

Sustainable practices used before the grant:
Steve Chatt: Had started a rotational grazing system about 3 years earlier. Before starting this project had 3-4 paddocks in system, now have 20. Had no till row crops for 15-20 years. Had planted about 2 acres of pasture windbreaks about 10 years earlier. Since the inception of the grant, has added legume interseeding in pastures, fenced to exclude livestock from creeks, improving water quality, preventing erosion, and enhancing wildlife habitat.

Vic Jensen: Had started a rotational grazing system between 3 pastures. How those three pastures are divided into 3, 4 and 5 paddocks respectively. He had planted about 5 acres of pasture windbreaks about 9 years earlier. Since the inception of the grant, has fenced to exclude livestock from creeks, improving water quality, preventing erosion, and enhancing wildlife habitat.

Rollie Jeppesen: He had started a rotational grazing system. Before starting this project had about 20 paddocks in the system, now he has over 70 with more subdivisions planned for next year. Had no tilled row crops for about 7 years. He has reduced or eliminated pesticide use on crop ground for several years prior to this project. Since this grant started, completed conversion to organic production. This past year, he has added 2 miles of fencing to exclude livestock from streams, improving water quality, preventing erosion, and enhancing wildlife habitat.

This project specifically addresses the five goals of the National SARE Program as well as the concerns of many producers by providing… an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site specific application that will, over the long term:
- Satisfy human food and fiver needs – This project demonstrates management practices which improve livestock production for human consumption in a “natural” system which minimizes commercial inputs.

- Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends – Properly managed grazing systems reduce erosion which improves soil and water quality while minimizing the introduction of pesticides and commercial fertilizers into the environment when compared to the most common alternative, row crop production.

- Make the most efficient use of non renewable resources and on farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls – Adopting practices demonstrated in this proposal will allow farmers to adjust their grazing systems to better match the natural growth patterns of the plants in their pastures. Also, they improve nutrient (manure) distribution where it can be better used by forages and lessen the risk of it contaminating surface water. By increasing livestock production on the same number of acres, producers receive higher returns for their labor and management skills.

- Sustain the economic viability of farm operations – by improving grazing efficiency, producers increase livestock enterprise profitability. Also, by promoting livestock production and forage systems, farm operation become more diversified in a predominately crop production area which spreads risks and lowers dependence on government farm program payments.

- Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole – this project will demonstrate ways to increase profitability through more intensive management and higher labor requirements. These are human resources abundant on family farms and the advantage these operations have over large scale commercial operations. Preservation of the family farm keeps money in the local economy and indirectly improves the economic viability of rural communities.

An additional societal benefit is each producer in this demonstration will divert a portion of their pasture to establish an maintain riparian buffers which will provide additional protection to our natural resources and increase habitat for wildlife. This is something that has been identified as a high priority by both rural and urban audiences.

Process: these were the steps we went through as we planned and conducted our project:

- Identified problem – poor utilization of forages in pasture systems due to animal distribution. Some areas were over grazed while others were under grazed. One person had problems getting cattle to graze under trees. In some cases cattle trampled much grass during periods of rapid growth in the spring which was wasted when it could have been used during the summer months with lower forage production. The hilly terrain in this area also creates problems for animal distribution.

- Identified limiting factors – pastures can be divided into paddocks to force more even grazing, but getting water to the paddocks in remote areas of the pastures was the main deterrent to dividing pastures.

- Develop plan – to get water to all paddocks and identify the source of water

- Construct water distribution system – to compliment pasture divisions

- Change paddock design – based on observations. What looks like it would work on paper and what actually worked in the field were two different things! It was important to design the system so it would be flexible enough to change without a great deal of time or expense. Paddock division fences and water distribution lines needed to be temporary until the system can be observed and modified.

- Continue to monitor and refine system – by observing grazing patterns and productivity of various paddocks. This can only be accomplished over several years and different weather patterns. What works in a wet year may not work in a dry year.

- Increase grazing knowledge – by attending meetings, workshops and pasture walks

- Learn from others – see what has or hasn’t worked for other farmers and apply what they have done to overcome their problems to our own operations. Adapt their solutions to our operations if they fit.

- Be flexible – the drought this past summer required all of us to modify our systems to fit the conditions over which we had no control. However, having improved our grazing systems prevented us from having to liquidate a portion of our herd like many other operators with similar resources, but didn’t have an improved grazing system in place.

- Tom Schweers (Northwest Feed and Grain) – perimeter and cross fence design and installation
- Rife Pump representative – installation and design of ram pumps
- U.S. Tire Management Systems representative – using recycled tires for water tanks/reservoirs
- Plumbers (several) – ideas for design on water shutoffs, overflows, distribution lines, etc. One plumber liked the system he helped install so well he is going to install a similar system on his own pasture!
- Paul Rohrbaugh (Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society) – paddock design
- Dave Ivey, Lee Appleby, et al (NRCS) – technical advice on elevations, line size, design pipe system to go through dam (for ram pump), other cost share available (EQIP) to help cover expenses
- Papio-Missouri River NRD – dam design and construction
- Bruce Anderson (Cooperative Extension – UNL) forage species selection and rotational grazing advice
- Rick Rasby (Cooperative Extension – UNL) cow/calf herd nutrition recommendations
- John Wilson (Cooperative Extension – UNL) local contact and liaison to other individuals and organizations, answered many questions and contacted/referred to others for those he didn’t answer.

In our original application, we indicated we would use the following seven points to know if we achieved what we wanted to do with this grant.

We will measure the effects and impact of the watering systems installed by the following indicators:
- Is the general condition of the pasture improving, thus increasing stocking rates or improving gains while maintaining the current stocking rates?

It is unconditionally unanimous that the condition of our pastures are improving…and will probably continue to do so the longer our pastures are managed with improved grazing systems. We didn’t achieve increased stocking rates with a some what dry year in 2001 and extremely dry year in 2002. However, we were able to maintain our current herd on the available acres of pasture without liquidating a portion of the herd or purchasing large quantities of supplemental forage. This wasn’t the case for many other producers in our area.

- Are producers able to start grazing earlier in the spring, reducing more expensive supplemental feeding in the lot, because pastures green up sooner due to improved health and vigor of the forage?

This varied between producers as to the extent they were able to turn out earlier in the spring or graze later in the fall and was largely dependent on the weather conditions. All noticed that the paddocks, particularly those that had the earliest “last grazing” the previous year, were much more vigorous the following spring and could be grazed much earlier. The consensus was that in the long run, it will probably extend the grazing system earlier in the spring and later in the fall. One producer felt that, even with adverse weather conditions, he was able to turn out about two weeks earlier in the spring and graze almost a month later in the fall… basically eliminating the need for purchased feed inputs until he could run his herd on corn stalks.

- Are participating producers able to increase their livestock numbers, reduce the acres of pasture needed, increase pounds of beef produced from existing pasture, or in other ways increase their profitability?

Again, being able to maintain herd on the existing pastures without liquidating was the best that a person could hope for the past two years. Weaning weights were not taken on calves so we don’t have hard data to prove it, but calves seem to do better under these systems. One producer who also has grass fed yearlings noted he was getting gains of about two pounds/day throughout the grazing season where in the past his yearling’s gains were less than one pound/day consider the entire grazing season.

- Are these watering systems economically feasible and able to deliver the quality and quantity of water needed to support the livestock’s requirements?

These systems all supplied an adequate quantity of water except one springy draw that was tiled. With the dry weather that we experienced in 2002, the springs quit running and the water had to be supplemented. In a normal year, we do not anticipate this being a problem. Everyone noticed an improvement in water quality where cattle were prevented from getting in streams or ponds. An added benefit was that, by keeping cattle out of the water, it reduced the problems of hoof rot.

A conventional system in this area includes drilling a well, installing a pump and brining electricity to the pump. These systems were developed at a fraction of the cost (28%) of a conventional watering system. The cost estimates for these systems were: $4000 vs. $12000, $1700 vs. $8800, and $4850 vs. $16800. In addition, the annual repair and upkeep on these systems should be less than a conventional watering system.

- Is wildlife habitat improved by better grazing management which leaves more stubble in the pastures, by establishing riparian areas along streams that are protected from grazing, and by improving water quality in streams by keeping livestock and their wastes out of the water?

As was noted above, water quality definitely improved. Each producer fenced streams and ponds to keep livestock out. The fenced areas by streams and ponds that were not grazed increased wildlife habitat by providing more cover and also travel corridors. Producers noted observing more wildlife in these areas.

- Are there more requests for assistance from NRCS and Cooperative Extension from livestock producers for pasture management plans?

YES! These systems have created a great deal of interest by other producers. As was noted above, one plumber was going to install a system in his pasture like he helped install in one of these producer’s pastures. Also, a neighbor has installed a ram pump adjacent to the site where we installed our first pump.

- Most importantly, are there requests for more information on pasture management, and specifically on watering systems, from other livestock producers to the cooperators in this project?

All participants in this project have helped answer questions for other producers regarding pasture watering systems. Much of this has been generated at various outreach activities discussed later. However, a number of questions have been one on one. A prime example was that two producers traveled about 50 miles back to one site to visit more with one producer several days after they first saw his system during a field tour.

The alternative watering systems we tried were able to deliver an adequate quantity of superior quality water to paddocks throughout a pasture at a fraction of the cost of a conventional system. This resulted in superior performance with better use of available forages while protecting the environment and providing an additional benefit to wildlife. At big advantage, in addition to those just mentioned, is this type of grazing system requires you to check your cattle and your pastures more frequently, thereby doing a better job of management. Cattle moved form paddock to paddock on a regular basis get use to someone being around them and are easier to work.

This same advantage could also be considered a disadvantage because of the greater time commitment and higher labor requirements. Another disadvantage is that since this is relatively new, at least to this area, is there is not a lot of local expertise to draw on if a problem develops. It has required those involved with this project to do a lot more “homework” and learn by trial and error. Everyone agrees that they would definitely encourage other producers to look at alternative watering systems to help them improve their grazing system.

Project Impacts:
Since we did not collect weight and average daily gain data or have control herds to compare the cattle in the experiment, we don’t have a lot of statistical data. However, one producer had a record of what his yearlings gained on a rotational grazing system as compared to his conventional system in the past. He is able to double his gains based on this information. What we do have good data on is the cost of these systems as compared to what it would have cost to develop a typical watering system. We were able to develop alternative watering systems at an average of 28% of the cost of a conventional system.

We have used local newspapers, email, newsletters, and personal contacts to let other know about the project and events associated with it. Since parts of the system were just installed this past year, we have not had a major field day at the sites. This is planned for next summer. However, we have had a number of small events and tours at the different sites. Activities that have been held at different producer’s pastures include:
- Breed Association Tour – 10 participants
- Cuming County Feeders Association tour – 15 participants
- 4-H and FFA tour – 14 participants
- Pasture Walks – 20 participants
- Sustainable Agriculture college class involving students from the University of Nebraska, Iowa State University, Drake University and the University of Minnesota – 28 participants
- Summertime in the Country Tours (2) – 65 participants in 2001 and 50 in 2002
- Tour of system by those attending a business open house at one producer’s operations – 200 participants. This tour was significant because this audience was largely not involved in agriculture, but were very interested in the grazing system because of its positive impact on the environment.
- One on one contacts – over 100 between the three producers involved in this project.


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Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.