What to Do When Livestock Wells Run Dry

How Livestock Producers Can Improve Water Efficiency During Drought

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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When wells on livestock farms struggle to keep up with water demand during drought, producers need alternatives to keep livestock watered. These options can include permanent, semi-permanent or temporary storage structures. (DTN/Progress Farmer file photo by Russ Quinn)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Because of severe drought across Iowa and other Midwestern states this growing season, some livestock producers are seeing issues with lower groundwater levels. Most farms either use wells or tap into rural water systems for water.

The drought is shrinking groundwater levels, leading to some issues with water availability in livestock operations. Producers can take measures to assure they have water, from building permanent or semi-permanent storage structures to even obtaining temporary water storage.

Livestock producers should be prepared to plan ahead when considering emergency water storage. The earlier a plan is put into place, the better off you will be, said Iowa State University Associate Professor and Extension Specialist Daniel Andersen.


In his recent webinar titled, "When Wells Run Dry: Options for Livestock Farmers When Water Becomes an Issue," Andersen discussed various options to get water to livestock during drought.

In many cases, there are times during the day when water demand exceeds capacity. This results in periods of inadequate system pressure and flow, Andersen said.

Emergency water storage should be high capacity in nature, built quickly and at low cost. Andersen said large livestock operations would need thousands of gallons of water.

Livestock producers can install on-farm water storage to even out the livestock demand on a struggling system. This storage can be permanent structures, semi-permanent or temporary ones, he noted.

For example, permanent water storage structures could be underground water tanks; A tank "basement" can be built to store water for use during high-demand times.

Andersen said these long-life structures are expensive to construct.

"A large swine finisher operation in southern Iowa built a 14,000-gallon underwater tank and the cost was close to $30,000," Andersen said. "It was roughly $20,000 for the tanks and a control shelter and another $10,000 for pumping, controls and plumbing."

Underground tanks provide supplemental flow when peak demands exceed well or rural water capacity. Most store water overnight when demand is lower and this storage is then released during the day, he explained.


Semi-permanent water structures can be built to store some water without the high costs associated with permanent storage structures. These tanks can be built with material such as grain bin rings or even an earthen pond. Andersen recommended producers use a liner in either structure to keep water from seeping out.

The advantage of these structures is they are cheaper than permanent structures and can be built quicker, usually in a week or two. Also, they offer large capacity at relatively low initial costs.

There are some disadvantages. Since they are open topped, there could be some airborne contamination. For livestock, this isn't a problem -- but for human consumption, it would be an issue, he said.

Andersen estimated a 15,000-gallon above-ground tank that's 36 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep could be built for about $3,500. A 15,000-gallon earthen or underground storage structure to hold water would cost about $2,750.


There are many different temporary and/or portable options available to producers, according to Andersen.

For example, there are "onion" plastic tanks that can store 6,000 to 20,000 gallons of water; they're open-topped temporary tanks.

Another temporary design is "pillow" tanks, he said. These tanks look like large plastic pillows and have a capacity from 10,000 to 20,000 gallons. They are completely sealed; the water is not subject to the environment.

"There is a wide variation in costs for these temporary storage units, so you would want to shop around to find the best price," he said.

Andersen added when using these temporary tanks, they need to sit on level ground to prevent damage.

An advantage of these tanks is they can be taken down and stored until the next time they need to be used.

See the webinar at https://vimeo.com/….

Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com

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Russ Quinn