Working with Gravity
Cattle need more water in their diet than any other single component. Therefore, it is extremely important to have it available in ample supply and in good quality. As we are continually improving the farm, we are fencing the cattle out of surface water (ponds, creeks, streams) and installing water tanks. The simple solution is to supply these tanks with municipally treated water (city water), but we have decided to use lake water from lakes that are already on the farm. Because Mary’s lake is at nearly the highest point of the farm, we are able to gravity-feed the water through below-ground pipes to each of the pastures on the farm. This provides a safe, abundant, and sustainable water source for our cattle and allows us to prevent them from potentially degrading surface water locations on the farm.
Our custom-made water tank is a repurposed industrial tire that was destined for the landfill. By removing the sidewalls of the tire, we create a larger opening for the cattle to reach into the tank and have access to the water. We plumb the water supply pipes through the bottom and pour concrete inside to seal the tire and the pipes. Each of these tanks holds about 500 gallons which is enough for about 75 cows to drink out of before the tank is empty. The large capacity is important for using a gravity flow water system because the cows can drink faster than the water can replenish from the lakes. A float valve similar to what is in your toilet allows the valve to open and add water when the cows drink enough to lower the water level. We also install a rock pad with filter fabric below it to ensure that all the traffic around the water tanks does not cause a muddy mess!
Other components important to cattle nutrition are vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, our Kentucky forages do not provide everything that they need in enough quantity, so we have to provide supplemental vitamins and minerals for them. A simple and low cost way of providing these supplements in a weather protected feeder is by using waste barrels and tires. A comparable feeder would cost over $150, so we have saved quite a bit of money on the four that we use daily!
Seeking Natural Solutions
One issue we discovered with using lake water is that the absence of chlorine allows algae to grow more rapidly. Although this isn’t necessarily harmful for the cattle, it can cause issues with the float or just routine inspections of the tanks. To remedy this, we have found that goldfish do a pretty good job of reducing the algae in the tanks. We first tried minnows from a creek on the farm, but they didn’t survive the winter in the tanks. Next we tried the goldfish, and we have some that have been in the tanks for over 3 years. About 10-15 of them per tank seems to do a pretty good job. We don’t have to feed them because there is plenty of algae to eat! They don’t keep it spotless, but they definitely keep it cleaner.