Cathie Erichsen Arychuk, P.Ag.
Bison Production Specialist
Dugout water quality and quantity is important on pastures. Fencing dugouts and taking water to bison help increase the life of your dugout and also improve water quality and intake.
Make the Most of Your Pasture Water Supply
When water supplies are limited, the ideal solution is to keep cattle out of the dugout. Fencing dugouts and pumping water can have a big impact on both the quality and quantity of water when supplies are short. When stock are walking into the dugout, they trample in the sides and increase the silt in the water. This reduces the capacity of the dugout over time. It also has a large impact on water quality, by increasing silt, manure, bacteria and algae in the water. There are a number of solar and wind powered pumps available to move water to a stock tank away from the dugout itself. Nose pumps, which allow animals to pump their own water may work well over short distances. Another possibility is to restrict animal access to a ramp at one end of the dugout. The area can be reinforced with gravel, stones or polygrid. PFRA has had some success in trials using fly ash to reinforce dugout access ramps. The ramp area must be large enough to allow a number of animals to drink at once, to reduce fighting on the ramp.
Snow fence on the upwind side of the dugout will help trap snow and increase water supplies. A properly placed snow fence can increase your water supply by up to 25%. The ideal placement for a wind break would be on top of the embankment, on the upwind side of the dugout.
You might also want to consider setting up a portable water supply. A stock tank on a stoneboat or attached to a truck allows you to supplement your existing water supply. A portable system will also help improve livestock distribution on the pasture. This may help you to get animals to graze in remote areas that have been used lightly in the past, and improve pasture utilization.
In a dry year, water supplies can be as much of a concern on pasture as grass growth. Moving water from dugouts to the livestock can you help make the most of this limited resource.