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Making Better Efficiency a Reality

By Ken Andrews, NRCS Earth Team Volunteer

Rod and Janet Sharpe, Hillsdale, Wyo., and three employees, continue a ranching tradition that began well over 75 years ago. The ranch in Laramie County is where Janet was born.

With help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Sharpes have reduced the distance their cattle have to go for water and as a result saw better gains; improved energy efficiency with solar panels and as a result saved money; and increased wildlife on their 15,000-acre ranch.

Rod credits Jim Pike, district conservationist in the Cheyenne field office, and Shawna Taylor, soil conservationist, with making conservation a vital part of his operation. “Without their help and knowledge and their desire to help a producer become more efficient and productive, I don’t think I would have ever seen the results I see today.”

It all began with Rod’s desire to get better gains from his cattle. He also wanted a more efficient water system.

In February 2010, Rod began working with NRCS. Under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), 15 new tanks and seven new wells were installed for the 400-500 head cattle. This not only improved the livestock water for the Sharpe’s Angus cow/calf operation, it reduced the distance the cattle must walk to get to fresh water.

 The tanks and wells are all interconnected with 7.5 miles of high pressure thick wall poly pipe buried in the ground six or more feet below the surface to prevent freezing problems.

The tanks are made from old scrapper tires and are well anchored into the soil with concrete bases and strong steel piping. They stand 12 feet and 14 feet in diameter with holding capacities of 2,200 to 2,600 gallons. All of the tanks are fed from wells or other taps from the pipeline with a combination of pump and gravity feed. Most of the tanks contain aerators to help reduce the algae forming on the bottom, and to keep the water well oxygenated and to serve as a means of agitation to prevent freezing in the winter. Rod said he chose the tires, as opposed to metal tanks, for their longer life.

By locating the tanks in more accessible locations, the cattle had a shorter walking distance to water. Although, there is an intermittent stream on the ranch, it was not a reliable source of water.

At weaning and shipping time, Rod said his cattle have consistently shown a 50 pound gain in weight. He credited that to easier accessibility to water. He said his cows and calves have less health problems and have avoided some diseases such as dust pneumonia.

It was out of necessity that prompted the Sharpes began to look at solar energy. Commercial power was available to few of the tank locations. Solar panels were chosen for those not so supplied. Three-panel units supply the needed power to run the pumps with an available four-panel unit when the additional power was needed.

Rod said the solar panels are more cost effective than commercial electricity with savings up to 90%. As an added bonus, the panels can be moved if necessary to other locations should problems arise.

Along with the better tank placement came better utilization of available grass. Overgrazing and under grazing have been reduced with the convenience of closer water, according to Rod.

Rod and Janet began to see antelope and deer populations increase. Upland game birds, not normally found in the central part of Laramie County, began to arrive. Rod said the good ground cover and winter protection in the pastures have given the birds a more stable environment. With a near absence of predators, he said that ground nesting birds are expanding in numbers.

He changed the fencing on much of the property and it allowed easier access for wildlife. He said an added height in the lower wire has reduced the collection of weeds to better help keep the fence line clean and to aid in the reduction of wildlife hazards.

The work he started with NRCS is now 75 to 80% complete. His future plans includes breaking some of the largest pastures into smaller grazing units to permit a better balanced grazing rotation and to permit forage to reinvigorate.  

“This works,” Rod said, “thanks to Jim and Shawna. They helped me make a long time goal now nearer to reality.”

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