Water sources for range livestock

Water sources for range livestock should be sufficient to meet the water requirements of the livestock, both in quantity and quality. A well-planned water system should have a backup or secondary water source and should also be protected from physical damage and contamination.

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Groundwater sources


The two main types of wells are bored wells and drilled wells.

Bored wells are generally constructed where the groundwater source is relatively close to the surface (30 metres) and are usually large-diameter installations. In the prairies, 76 millimetres (mm) is the most common diameter.

Drilled wells are smaller in diameter and are typically constructed to reach much greater depths.

Because bored wells are shallow, they are affected more by variations in precipitation (recharge) than drilled wells. However, the large diameter of a bored well effectively means that the well itself potentially could provide some storage.

Unless the well is a flowing artesian well, a pump will be required to extract and distribute the water.


A spring is an area where groundwater emerges naturally on or near the earth's surface. How the spring should be developed will vary with each size and type of spring. The flow rate that a spring will yield is one factor that must also be taken into account.

The actual surfacing point of a spring may only be a very small part of the total water-bearing area. Excavation parallel to the contour of the land at or slightly below the level of the discharge point may substantially increase the flow of the spring. Similarly, installing physical improvements such as drainage pipe and cribbing can also increase the flow available from a spring and contribute to its protection.

Care should be taken when developing a spring to ensure that it remains free flowing. Building a dam or embankment around the spring to store water may cause the spring to stop flowing due to the rise in water level where the spring discharges. For the same reason, overflow pipes should be included as part of any spring development.

Care should also be taken to ensure that the spring is not contaminated from surface runoff. To do this, cover any excavation made in developing the spring with impervious material and divert surface runoff around the site.

To protect the spring from trampling and contamination by livestock, fence the area off and pipe water from the spring to a remote site for watering livestock.

Surface water sources


Fence around a water source in a pasture
Direct access can be prevented with

Dugouts are the most common type of surface water source for watering range livestock. Depending on local conditions and stock requirements, properly designed dugouts can provide water for either seasonal or year round requirements. Factors to consider when locating a dugout include topography (what size of drainage area is available), hydrology (the amount of precipitation the area receives), geology (permeability of the soils), potential pollutants (organic matter like leaves and drainage from barnyards, feedlots, cultivated land, road ditches), as well as any future development plans (may change the quality and quantity of runoff).

Dugout water quality can be maintained or improved through simple practices such as grassed water runs, aeration, proper intake systems, limiting organic matter in the dugout and by preventing direct livestock access through the use of remote watering facilities such as nose pumps or solar pumps.

Rivers, creek and lakes

Cows drinking directly from a water source
Direct access to water sources is usually
not recommended.

Natural surface waters such as rivers, creeks and lakes can be good sources of water for livestock, as can man-made water channels like canals. Allowing livestock direct access to surface waters is not recommended because it causes water quality degradation and structural damage to banks and shores.

Direct access can also affect livestock health through foot-rot, reduced water consumption due to access difficulties, and accidental drowning.

Utilization of surface water for consumption by livestock will require an intake in the river, creek, canal or lake. Intakes for stock watering applications are generally very simple structures as the required water flows and volumes are not large. A properly sized screen can protect the stock watering system from clogging, but its primary importance is the protection of fish and fish habitat.

For most stock watering applications, a screen with openings smaller than 2.5 millimetres (0.1 inches) and with total area of openings not less than 50 per cent of the total screen area should be sufficient.