An alternative watering system for livestock can increase animal health, grazing efficiency and environmental stewardship.
Traditional farming methods allow livestock direct access to ponds and streams for watering. This direct access by livestock can lead to a negative impact on water quality and is one reason, among others, why alternative watering of livestock is recommended.
Several different options exist for implementing an alternative watering system.  The first option is to either fully or partially fence off the water source. The next options involve using one of three different watering systems.
The first system is a gravity fed system. Most gravity systems are tanks equipped with float valves located lower than the water source. An advantage of gravity systems is that they can be installed to be freeze-proof by using insulated tanks or electric heaters.
A ram system is the second type of watering system. Ram pumps are hydraulic pumps that use the energy in falling water to pump a portion of the water to a height greater than the water source. These pumps are dependable when properly installed.
Finally, a solar powered system can be used. Solar powered systems are particularly useful where utility AC power is not available. This system is used to provide pressurized water from low-lying streams or ponds to locations of higher elevation.  The options for alternative watering appeal differently to each farmer and depend on the unique farm system.
As previously mentioned, there are several benefits to an alternative watering system. It can protect water quality, improve herd health and increase beef operation efficiency.
Use of alternative watering increases forage uptake by livestock and redistributes the nutrients contained in animal manure and urine to the soil instead of the pond or stream where they may currently access water. If a cow stands in the field rather than a pond, the nutrients in its waste will return to the soil where an increase in pasture fertility and forage growth can occur.  
Another benefit to alternative watering is an increase in pond life and a decrease in stream bank erosion.
Finally, preventing cattle from defecating in water sources limits the amount of bacteria possibly contaminating water, which can lead to a decline in animal performance.
Pairing an alternative watering system with a rotational grazing system will additionally improve redistribution of nutrients by cattle, increase grazing efficiency, and increase the environmental sustainability of a grazing operation.  
John Pennington is the University of Arkansas Washington County Extension Agent specializing in Agriculture and Water Quality.


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