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Understanding Livestock Watering Habits 

Animal behavior can influence the layout of a rancher’s watering system. Get tips that can help you design systems for various species.
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Animal behavior can influence the layout of a rancher’s watering system. These tips from the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands can help with system design:  

  • Livestock drink individually when on small pastures (20 acres or less). In these cases, small troughs (25 to 50 gallons) and low flow rates (2 to 4 gallons per minute) are adequate.  
  • The greater the distance livestock must travel to water, the more likely it is they will move as a group (herd drinking) and need larger toughs and good flow/refill rates. Slow fill rates force livestock to wait, and “boss animals” will dominate the trough. To serve up enough water, have a large enough tank so 10 percent of the herd can drink at the same time, with a flow rate that can water the whole herd in 20 minutes.  
  • Troughs located inside fenced pastures encourage individual drinking.  
  • Troughs located outside fenced pastures (alley access) encourage herd drinking.  
  • Tank height will depend on your livestock. Mark Green, lead resource conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Springfield, Missouri, suggests these heights:  
  • Cattle: Minimum of 18 inches 
  • Sheep/goats: 16 inches to 19 inches 
  • Lamb/kids: 12 inches to 14 inches (Remember an open trough needs an escape ramp or concrete blocks for kids/lambs if they fall in.) 

If you’re not an expert in water engineering there are folks nearby who could help you. Check in with your local Natural Resources Conservation Service or Conservation District office, or find an Extension Agent.

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Tailored Advice From Experts

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Additional Resources

Watch NCBA Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) winner profiles. See how the beef industry showcases its stewardship, conservation and business practices that work together on farms and ranches.

Blair Brothers Angus Ranch – South Dakota

Gracie Creek – Nebraska

Beatty Canyon Ranch – Colorado

JY Ferry & Son, Inc. – Utah

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