Producers should have backup plan to ensure quality water year round

STANDARD, Alta.— Water supply and distribution are important parts of a farm so producers must be ready for the next drought or flood.

“Most producers really are just set up for here and now, today. The average years are pretty good but really you need to be thinking about the next drought,” said Joe Harrington, water specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

Advance plans are needed for dry periods. If cattle have to be moved to stubble when the forage runs out, water must be available, he said at a water management workshop sponsored by the Foothills Forage Association in Standard, Alta.

Many people do not know how much water their wells produce and they do not test the quality.

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“If the water quality is not suitable, then it is not much good to you,” he said.

Water should be tested periodically and records kept to keep track of changes. If the water quality changes that is a sign that the well is starting to fail.

“So many people have never tested their well, especially in pasture wells. You may find the water is not that great and you may be hurting some of your production,” he said.

Wellheads should also be regularly inspected and protected with a vermin proof cap to keep out insects and mice.

When calculating quantity, consider how much water is needed for household use as well as what is required in pastures, feeding and wintering sites.

Every producer should be able to identify current and potential water supplies including wells, dugouts, springs, sloughs and creeks. The reliability of supply, quality and legal access should also be noted.

Wells are the most common source of farm water. Groundwater is often considered superior to surface supplies due to consistency of quantity and quality.

Wells don’t usually dry up, but old structures can quit functioning because the rock formation is closing in on the casings.

Consider taking a course on water wells to learn proper design and construction with a licensed well driller, Harrington advised.

Hire well drillers with experience and local knowledge of the geology, as well as the location and depth of potential water sources.

Dugouts are not a reliable source during dry weather because water evaporates and leaves behind salts that could harm livestock.

“We see a lot of high sulfates in dugouts,” he said.

Dugouts need to be deep and should have one side with a slope so animals can get in for a drink if necessary.

The dugout should be able to hold a three-year supply that includes accounting for use and evaporation losses.

Dugouts accept runoff but included in that is silt, minerals from the soil and nutrients.

If they are not treated or aerated, toxic blue algae, which is actually a bacteria, could appear.

Windmills and solar systems can be used to aerate and pump out the water from the dugout to troughs.

Aeration mixes oxygen into the water and a system should be added the day the dugout was built rather than trying to improve it 20 years later, said Marvin Jackson of Sundog Solar who owns the solar and wind pump manufacturing company based at Sundre, Alta.

Jackson said he would prefer to aerate at night but it is easier to do during the day. However stirring up a pond in the heat of the day warms up the water and that could increase algae. When the aerator is installed the water should be treated at the same time to prevent algae development.

Water consumption requirements depend on:

  • size and kind of animal
  • rate and composition of gain
  • pregnancy
  • lactation
  • type of diet
  • level of dry matter intake
  • level of activity
  • quality of water
  • temperature of water
  • surrounding air temperature

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