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Has the time come to ditch your dugout?

After three years of dry conditions, a new approach to watering systems may be needed

Manitoba’s dwindling pastures have some provincial livestock specialists urging producers to take another look at watering systems.

Pam Iwanchysko, livestock specialist in the northwest, is stressing the importance of, “getting those livestock out of the dugouts,” as water supplies in her area continue to lag in some areas.

“Certainly that could be something that could be promoted more that would be more beneficial to utilize,” she said.

A watering system, such as the solar watering systems that have been tested in recent years at Manitoba Forage and Beef Initiatives, could help preserve those scant water supplies by piping cleaner water to cattle and avoiding the dirt and nutrient buildup associated with cattle wading into their main water source.

Water system advocates like Iwanchysko typically point to losses of production from decreased volume or low-quality water. The topic was also the focus of a recent webinar from the Beef Cattle Research Council in late August.

The systems have been tied to higher water quality, as livestock do not have access to the actual source of water and are not stirring up solids and dirt by wading.

“You need the water source to be there to put in a watering system,” another provincial livestock specialist, Shawn Cabak, noted, although he added that it is an option for producers starting to get frustrated about water challenges.

Dugouts and water systems are among the on-farm projects the province has tagged for cost sharing through Ag Action Manitoba.

The systems, however, come with their own monitoring challenges, producer and Keystone Agricultural Producers vice-president Jill Verwey said.

“We looked at it last summer and, if you look at the number of pastures we have and the number of dugouts — and a lot of it’s on rented pasture, so it would be infrastructure you’d have to put in, fencing the dugout. You would have to put in a system to work, and then you would have to monitor that on more than just a weekly basis,” she said.

That might be more viable if hydro is readily available on that pasture, she noted, but she is not convinced that solar or battery-powered systems will not fail unexpectedly, a point that has been acknowledged by some livestock specialists involved in testing such a system north of Brandon, as well as some producers, who have integrated such a system. Some farmers might do that monitoring with drones or remote technology, Verwey said, although those come with their own technical and, in the case of drones, regulatory hurdles.

Other producers, such as Ryan Boyd, of Forrest, have highlighted their solar watering systems during farm tours, using much the same rationale as Iwanchysko.

The opportunity is there, Verwey said, but maintained that there are additional costs for opting into such a system.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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