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Design of Watering Facilities

By Kelly J. Klausmeyer, Agricultural Engineer
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Hays, Kansas

A watering facility can be any tank, trough, or other device that provides water for livestock. It comes in all shapes and sizes with fiberglass and steel being the most common materials. Concrete and recycled materials (like tires and plastic waterers with built-in heaters) are also widely used. Properly sizing a watering facility is important to help the producer decide which type bests fits the operation and also to make it the most economical.

A well-designed watering facility system can not only provide water that will meet the daily needs for the livestock, but it can also improve animal distribution around the pasture. The recommendation of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is to keep all areas of a pasture within 1320 feet of a water source, but a maximum of 900 feet is best. Use lower distances when the slope is steep.

Knowing how much water cattle will drink is very important. Cattle generally need 1-2 gallons per day per 100 pounds of weight. That is 6-18 gallons per day for beef cattle and 10-30 gallons per day for dairy cows. Hot weather maximums for cattle can range up to 20-25 gallons per day, but credit should be given for the water content of forage eaten throughout the day as well. Most NRCS watering facilities are designed by assuming 15-20 gallons per day for a cow/calf pair. Other cattle watering facts are that they drink 1-2 gallons per minute and take 2-3 minutes per watering event. They also prefer at least 3 inches of water depth in order to put their muzzles in 1-2 inches while drinking.

All designs should provide a minimum of a three-day supply in the event of a power loss, pump failure, or other emergency conditions. This volume can be provided in several locations in a rotational pasture system or just in one location if desired. Exceptions to this rule would only be if an auxiliary power supply is available or the water source is a rural water system or a reliable spring or spring-fed pond.

The final design will take all these factors and apply them to each individual system. Please contact your local NRCS office or conservation district office located at your local county U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at for assistance. More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.