Springs, Ponds, and Streams

Clif Little, OSU Extension Educator, Guernsey County

Important elements for maximizing a grazing system include the best-planned paddocks, good fencing, improved forage and livestock genetics, and adequate pasture fertility. However, water distribution is arguably one of the most important elements of pasture based livestock systems. Pasture water systems vary based on livestock species, availability of electric, soils, water supply needed, travel distance to water, and seasonal needs. Each farm has a different set of circumstances and water systems should be developed based on individual farm resources.

In Southern and Eastern Ohio, spring systems are the most often developed water sources. Springs can provide adequate low cost, low maintenance water systems. Water quality and quantity are major considerations when developing a spring. The first question to answer about a spring development: “Is this site worth developing?” If a spring is not running in July and August, it may be an intermittent spring and would have limited production. Creating enough storage capacity for a poor producing spring can be costly. When possible attempt to develop springs at high elevations on the farm, this would allow the spring to gravity flow to lower tanks, potentially supplying water to many paddocks. There are many water tank options, whether pressurized or gravity systems are developed. The correct tank to use depends on the livestock species and the time of year you want to provide water. The capacity of the tank should be increased based on travel distance to water. Used, heavy, earth-moving tires are frequently used as water tanks and are inexpensive and freeze resistant. Plan the livestock system of rotation identifying the areas of the farm where freeze proof systems will be needed. Winter watering systems vary in susceptibility to freezing. Many frost-free waters use geothermal energy to keep the system from freezing and each varies in the freeze resistance. Water systems in the wintering area should have the ability to be drained, with lines that can be easily shut-off.

Once the spring volume has been determined and found to be worth developing, if you are concerned about the quality of the water have it analyzed before development. The local OSU Extension office can provide laboratories capable of analyzing livestock water. Cost to develop a spring will vary greatly and can range from $2500-$3000 per spring. Determine your spring development needs by sitting down with professionals experienced in this area to discuss the grazing system.

Ponds are often used as a source of livestock water where there are no springs. Livestock owners desire ponds as a watering source partially because they also have a recreational use value. However, soils, drainage, and cost can limit the practicality of ponds. If you think a pond is what you need contact the local Soil and Water Conservation office for advice before construction. Ponds may be completely fenced off from livestock and piping used to deliver water or fencing can be used limit access to shoreline. The best water in a pond is located near the center and about 2 feet below the surface. Granting livestock unlimited access to ponds and streams can cause bank erosion and water quality issues. For streams and ponds, consider developing limited water access points utilizing fencing, geotextile fabric and stone. As with springs, water quality can be an issue when utilizing ponds and streams.

For help in designing a livestock watering system contact the local USDA/NRCS Conservationist or your local Ohio State University County Extension office. The USDA/NRCS office may also have cost share incentives available to farmers that can help in reducing the cost of your livestock watering system.