Off-channel Cattle Watering

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by Alan Carpenter

Lawlor Wakem owns the Eagle Rock Ranch in South Park along Tarrayall Creek. He operates a cow-calf operation and relies on Tarryall Creek to provide water for his cattle. However, we all know the damage that 200 cattle can do to a creek and its riparian areas. One solution to this problem is to develop off-channel stock water. This allows a riparian area to be fenced and managed as a riparian pasture without depriving cattle in adjacent pastures of the water they need. Lawlor selected a site for the stock watering point is about 100 feet from the creek, where there is shallow ground water. He used a backhoe to dig a hole about ten feet deep. Then he placed a ten-foot length of four-foot diameter culvert on end in the hole to create the well. After that, he used H-braces to attach a six-foot diameter tank to the culvert. He lined the tank with two inches of foam insulation and placed a two-inch thick foam cover over the tank to help prevent the water in the tank from freezing. The foam cover has four sections that allow only a portion of the tank to be used by the cattle at one time. It took Lawlor about one day to dig the well and another day to install the rest of the equipment. The project had a modest price tag of $1200 for materials (culvert – $400; tank – $200; pump and valves = $100; and solar panel and structure to hold it in place – $500). The solar unit can be removed and installed on other tanks, thus spreading its cost over a number of watering points. Lawlor’s design assumed that the water would circulate between the well and the tank, thus preventing it from freezing. However, the State Engineer would not allow that to happen, due to concern that the cattle saliva would contaminate the ground water. Note that Lawlor sloped the soil away from the tank so cattle would not stand with their rear ends next to the tank and poop in the tank. It’s interesting to compare the apparently minimal negative effects from cattle slobbering in the tank that would circulate in the well underneath it, with the obvious negative effects of 200 cattle (legally) defecating, urinating, and slobbering in the creek. Even with this drawback, Lawlor is glad that he has developed the off-channel water point, because it will help him improve the condition of his riparian areas without compromising his cattle’s access to water. He plans to install five more off-channel water points. This project was cost-shared with the Habitat Partnership Program and Trout Unlimited.