PORTABLE WATER SYSTEMS MAKE ROTATIONAL GRAZING EASIER
BY HEATHER SMITH THOMAS
Rotating livestock through pastures, providing recovery time for parcels recently grazed, can greatly increase pasture production. The drawback for many producers is having to move the temporary fencing and to provide water in each small pasture. Portable water tanks improve the flexibility of rotational grazing systems, being easy to move, and provide an inexpensive way to get water to all of the paddocks.
Portable tanks can be created from plastic barrels or purchased inexpensively and in a variety of sizes—from 50 to 1,000 gallons–at most farm supply stores. Plastic and fiberglass tanks are less expensive and last longer than steel, and are easier to move because they are lighter. The smaller tanks are easiest to move and often adequate in a rotation system because the cattle in a small area won’t be all drinking at the same time. A simple over-the ground system of hoses or flexible pipe can often work during summer when it’s not vulnerable to freezing, according to Ian Gerrish, at Cobb Creek Farm in Hillsboro, Texas.
Gerrish has a cattle operation and also partners in a fence and water system business. He says many producers are reluctant to invest in a permanent system on leased pasture. A portable system can be taken to your next place or from one paddock system to another. He suggests using HDPE (high-density polyethylene) roll pipe.
These “plastic” pipes can be rolled on a reel and unrolled somewhere else. “Big reels can be obtained inexpensively from cable companies that have leftover spindle reels. You can roll the reel over the top of the pipe and gather it that way, but I created an adaptation with plates on my bale unroller on my tractor. I hook that into a reel to roll it up, and pick it up with the tractor to move it around,” he explains.
“There are several different types of fittings that will work if you have to roll it back up. Some you tighten with a wrench, or you can use barbed fittings with hose clamps. With hose clamps, always use two, and go opposite ways with them, and the fitting won’t come loose,” he says.
“In hot weather, make sure the water doesn’t get too hot in above ground black pipe. If water gets hotter than 100 degrees cattle won’t drink it,” he explains.
He uses Rubbermaid tanks, which are very durable—withstanding hot weather without melting and cold weather without becoming brittle and breaking. “I use Apex extra-flow valves that go through the tank. These 3/4 inch valves will accommodate from 4 to 175 pounds of pressure,” says Gerrish.
He recommends selecting a tank size to fit your herd size, and that could be 100 to 300 or more gallons. “I use the 300 and the 150-gallon tanks. Even a 300-gallon tank is light enough (when empty) that one person can pick it up and put it on the back of an ATV,” he says.
Some producers pump water or use gravity flow systems. “If you have to haul water, I feel it’s hard to justify the cost, but for some people it might work. You might use a water truck and tie it into your system, and then fill it up again in a day or two,” he says. Some people use portable tanks on a permanent water system with the pipes buried. Underground or overground PVC or HDPE pipes can be situated along an existing fence line where the risers are out of the way of the cattle. “A quick-coupler valve or a hydrant enables you to tap into the line wherever you need to, and move your portable tank to each new location,” says Gerrish. Portable tanks can also be placed under fences to supply two to four separate paddocks.
He likes plenty of hookups—the closer together the better. “Most of mine are set 200 feet apart, allowing flexibility for where we put the tanks when we do high-density grazing and move the cattle often. Just make sure those quick-coupler valves are protected so the cattle don’t walk or rub on them.”
He tries to put tanks on high spots in the pasture, rather than in low areas so they don’t make a muddy mess if they run over, and always tries to keep the walking distance to the water tank less than 800 feet. “Then the cattle won’t mob the tank all at once and are more likely to come individually,” he explains.
“There are many kinds of pumps that work for a water system. In some situations you may be just rigging up something for an over-the-ground system.” A producer who is trying to figure these things out for the first time can often get good advice from someone who has been doing rotational grazing with portable water systems. Some of the best tricks and tips are learned by experience, trial and error, and someone who has been doing this for a while can help you avoid problems.