On a really hot summer\'s day, a single thousand pound cow can drink up to 20 gallons of water. Therefore, before you get your cows, you should consider carefully how you will provide them with water. For optimum health, weight gain, and milk production, cattle need to be given free access to all the clean, fresh water that they want.
Cattle troughs are relatively cheap, and they can be moved around the farm. You can install hydrants near the troughs to make filling them more convenient, or you can stretch a hose across the yard from the house. Filling troughs is a great job for kids in the summer, since they might like to cool off in the trough while filling them.
There are a few problems with using troughs for your water source. First, you have to remember to fill them up, and you have to remember to turn the water off when they are full. In the summer, you may need to fill the troughs multiple times a day depending on how many cows you have and how many troughs you have. Keeping the water tank full can make travel inconvenient if you can\'t find someone to do this chore for you.
In the winter, if you are depending on hoses for your water source, you should remember that your hose can freeze solid. If you use a hose, you must drain it every time that you use it to keep it from freezing and splitting. Also in the winter, you may need to install a heater in the trough to
keep the water from freezing, or if your winters are not too severe, you
can just go out twice a day with a heavy object to break the ice.
Natural Bodies of Water
If you are lucky enough to have a creek, pond, stream, or spring on your farm, you will have a free, dependable source of water for at least a portion of the year. However, you should remember that creeks and streams are often considered the property of the state in which you live. You probably can\'t dam up a creek to create a pond without a permit. Additionally, allowing your cattle to stomp through and stand in a creek has a terrible impact on the water quality. You can work with the state and county agencies in your area to figure out a workable solution to giving your cows water access without damaging the creek or stream banks.
Ponds are very convenient for the farmer. They give the cows access to all of the water that they want. The problem with using a pond for water is that pond water is often very filthy because cows love to stand in the water when they are hot to cool off. It is not uncommon on our farm to see a cow standing in our pond drinking while defecating at the same time. Also, ponds can be contaminated with pollutants that may run-off from neighboring fields and landscapes. The weed-and-feed on your neighbor\'s lawn can end up in your pond for your cows to drink. Your cows can live with a certain level of bacteria in the pond, but they often prefer a cleaner water source.
The most convenient way to water your cattle is to invest in an automatic watering system. These systems can be attached to a well-water system or to your own home water source. The downside to these systems is that they can sometimes be a little expensive to buy.
Some automatic waterers are insulated, so your cows will have cool water in the summer and plenty of liquid water in the cold winter. You don\'t have to remember to turn the water on or off, and you can leave town knowing that your cows will have free access to all the clean, fresh water that they need.
All of these options are workable for the small farmer. We have all three types of water sources on our farm in different fields. However, we eventually hope to install automatic waterers in all of our fields and connect them to our well.