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Winter watering shed


Bruce Parkes, cow-calf operator in Eriksdale, Manitoba, knows what it takes to water cattle under extreme winter conditions. In his part of Canada, it's not unusual to experience -20°F. temperatures for weeks at a time.

In 2003, he decided to upgrade his winter watering system to include a remote, year-round, solar-powered watering station located at the transect point of four large grazing paddocks.

“I needed a system that could handle winter cold snaps and not freeze up,” he recalls, adding that he wanted something that had a proven track record for being simple, reliable, and easy to maintain.

Parkes chose the watering shed system. A design already in use in Manitoba, it's received favorable marks from the local agriculture department.

The basic premise behind his newly selected system is that by constructing a well-insulated structure (6 inches minimum) around a storage tank of freshly pumped well water, the latent heat of that water moderates the temperatures within the structure enough to prevent a freeze-up from occurring.

Cattle access water from a trough that sits beneath the storage tank. Equipped with drinking tubes, the well-insulated trough extends out from the side of the shed just enough for the animals to drink.

“I built an 8×8-foot shed and used a 4×10-foot metal trough to get length needed for it to go outside,” he says. “Inside the shed and on top of the trough, I placed a 400-gallon poly tank.”

Parkes goes on to explain that water in his system is pumped directly from the source into the poly tank. From there it gravity-feeds through a Gallagher float-control valve into the trough.

As the cattle drink and the water level drops in the trough, it is replenished from the tank. Once the water drops to a specified level in the tank, another float control activates the pump and more well water flows into the tank.

Three solar panels on the roof of the shed produce enough electricity to keep the eight 6-volt deep-cycle batteries charged and available to power a 24-volt submersible well pump.

Parkes calculates that 100 cow-calf pairs drink enough water over a 24-hour period to almost replace the entire contents of his storage tank. Since installing his watering shed system, he has yet to experience a serious freeze-up.

“On a real cold morning, the drinking tubes might freeze over. But once I've cleared them, they're good for the day,” says Parkes.

Auxiliary heat an option

Ray Bittner, farm production adviser for Manitoba Agriculture, is well acquainted with the watering shed system. He estimates that at least 300 gallons of water should be consumed and replaced daily to overcome the cooling effect from the drinking holes and building temperature losses.

For those whose herds can't consume the necessary volume of water, Bittner recommends using a secondary heat source inside the shed.

“You don't need much to keep the water in the shed from freezing,” he says. “A propane-powered mantle lamp – the sort of one used for camping – turned to a low setting will supply enough heat in a well-insulated shed.”

Bittner has seen this type of lamp operate for 20 days straight on a 20-pound propane tank.

“The only drawback is that when you run them continuously, they can gum up from the impurities in the gas,” he says. “Keep them clean, and you've got a great backup for about $1 a day.” 

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Ray Bittner | 204/768-2782

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