Water Catchment Systems for Mobile and Permanent Farm Structures

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $9,970.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:


  • Animals: bees, poultry, swine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: watering systems
  • Crop Production: irrigation
  • Education and Training: extension, focus group, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: indicators
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, quality of life


    As drought conditions have increased in regularity and extremity in the southeastern United States and competition for water rights has become fiercer, it becomes apparent that we need more appropriate use of our water resources. The use of mobile and permanent structures to capture water is a relatively inexpensive option that can significantly supplement water use on a farm. The owners of Rosita’s, a small diversified farm in north Alabama, established water catchment systems on multiple buildings of various sizes and uses to assess the potential for water catchment and storage. A significant volume of water was quickly collected, and was limited primarily by the storage capacity of the system. Pigs and cows also posed some problems by disturbing the smaller and less secure units. In general, the systems were inexpensive and stored a useful quantity of water, especially in more remote locations around the farm. Any efforts to capture the majority of water collected would require a much larger storage structure.


    Rosita’s is a small diversified farm in Hartselle, Alabama. We raise cows, pigs, chickens, laying hens, broilers, bees, and mixed vegetables on 25 acres. Most of these products are marketed directly to customers through on-farm sales and local farmers markets. The livestock, especially the cattle, is rotated through most of the 25 acres, and we use mobile, semi-mobile, and permanent structures to house the chickens and pigs. We were interested in evaluating the use of these smaller structures to strategically capture water around the farm.

    We established water catchment systems using gutters and barrels or larger water tanks on eight structures around the farm ranging in size from an 8x8’ pig shelter to a 2400 square foot barn. We estimated the potential water catchment for each in a year with average precipitation, based on the square footage of the roof and using a water catchment calculator (Brown, 2008). Total potential catchment for the eight structures was almost 135,000 gallons in a year with 50 inches of precipitation.

    Project objectives:

    We will use existing structures on our farm to set up water catchment systems. The cost of establishment, water inputs and outputs from this system, and storage capacity requirements will be evaluated to see how the costs and benefits balance out in the end. This evaluation will be both on a farm scale and for each individual catchment system.

    We will measure the amount of water caught, the amount of storage needed to keep this water for future use, the amount of water used for livestock watering, hog wallows, and irrigation, and how that translates into a whole-farm water budget. Dr. Joe Brown at the University of Alabama and Dr. Cathy Sabota from Alabama A&M University will help in designing an appropriate data collection system; both have worked to develop appropriate water catchment systems for small farmers. We will use eight permanent and mobile structures: two mobile chicken coops, two mobile hog houses, the barn, a shed, the house, and the covered gravity wagon. The total square footage of these catchment areas is approximately 5600. These structures will demonstrate a variety of alternatives for water catchment, the cost to make the system work, and the cost and/or savings for the producer.

    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.