Watering Cattle with the Sun

Rivers are the primary source of drinking water for half of Missouri's population. We also use our 53,000 miles of streams for watering livestock, which provide us with dairy and meat products. We need the stream to water cattle, just as we need clean water for drinking, recreation and industry.

But benefits of the food supply to society don't come without a cost. Cities use rivers to carry away sewage, and factories and mines sometimes discharge their wastes to streams. Cattle sometimes pollute streams, though not by design. Water quality can be affected from the direct input of animal wastes. In addition, livestock trample stream banks and the vegetation growing on them, which in turn causes erosion.

To decrease water contamination from livestock, the Conservation Department, working together with the Department of Natural Resources/Soil and Water Conservation Program, Natural Resources Conservation Service and local soil and water conservation districts, is developing economical ways to water livestock inland and help keep cattle out of streams. Solar power watering is one of these alternative methods.

Using the sun to pump water to keep our streams clean may sound farfetched, but it's real and it works. Presently there are two basic types of solar water pumping systems. The simplest system consists of solar panels that provide electricity directly to the water pump. The other type uses batteries to run a pump, and the solar panels recharge the batteries.

When there is little or no sun shining in the sky, large storage tanks hold enough water to last for several days. In addition, the pumps can be set on a timer so that water will flow at predetermined times, regardless of the weather.

Before these watering systems can be effective, livestock owners must install fences to keep the cattle out of the stream. If fresh, cool water is provided nearby, the cattle will not have to walk far, which will give them more grazing time, resulting in better meat and milk production and more money for ranchers.

Paul Calvert, fisheries program coordinator with the Conservation Department, believes in solar powered watering. "Not only will solar watering improve water quality and reduce stream bank erosion, but fresh, cool water will increase weight gains faster than stagnant or polluted water," he says. "In fact, research from North Dakota shows that cattle drinking cool water will grow .3 to .4 pounds more per day than those drinking warm water. Research from western states shows