Providing cattle with clean water is vital in any farming operation. How that water is provided varies from farm to farm. One can water cattle using a city/county water source or use natural sources found on the farm. In Kentucky, ponds and streams can be used to effectively water cattle.

During hot summer months, cattle will loiter in streams and ponds to cool themselves. This results in the water becoming muddy and contaminated with animal waste which can be a route of disease transmission. Cattle will not drink as much water if it is muddy or has a high level of total dissolved solids. Low water intake leads to decreased dry matter consumption and reduced performance. Cost share opportunities for limiting access to ponds and streams may exist from Natural Resources Conservation Service or your local conservation district.


Limited water accessLimiting access to surface water sources can be achieved by a couple different methods. The first method is to install a ramp and a floating fence around a pond or stream (see photo). This method decreases erosion of riparian and banks of ponds and streams. Installing a ramp constructed of gravel and rock will reduce the amount of sediment stirred up from the bottom of the stream or pond and keep the amount of total dissolved solids lower, thus improving water quality and intake. Using larger sized gravel in this access area will reduce time cattle spend loitering because the rocks are not comfortable to stand on for a long period of time. The ideal slope of this ramp is 1 foot vertical to 6 to 10 feet horizontal so that it is not too steep.

When pasture is present on both sides of a stream, it may be necessary to install a hardened crossing to allow cattle to move between pastures while restricting access to the stream. The width of a stream crossing is typically designed to discourage cattle from loitering in the stream. These usually range from a minimum of 6 feet wide to around 10 feet for equipment crossing. This setup may require additional maintenance as debris can damage the fencing material or get trapped in the fence during flood events. Fencing off the banks of a stream and allowing limited access through the hardened crossing can have additional benefits. Allowing vegetation to grow in the riparian area along the streamside will help reduce erosion and decrease the amount of debris that makes it to your fence during a flood and shade the water lowering water temperatures.

Another method used to limit access to a pond is to fence around it and run a pipe from the pond to a watering tank downhill so that water will gravity feed. A watering tank with a float is necessary to prevent the water tank from over flowing and causing a muddy area. If a watering tank cannot be put downhill from the pond a pump system can be installed to carry the water from the pond to a tank uphill. See your local NRCS agent about cost-share on this system.

In more extreme cases, where pastures are not located near a pond or stream one can use a pump and reservoir tank. The reservoir can be placed on an elevated surface like a wagon or stand and be gravity fed to a smaller watering tank with a float the cattle can drink from. It would be ideal to place this reservoir in the shade to keep the water cool. Depending on the amount of water needed by the cattle, water may need to be replenished daily or every few days.

Improving cattle’s access and water quality can be done using a variety of methods, but it does not always have to cost a fortune to do so. Check with your local NRCS office and determine if they have cost-share funds to aid with installing limited access watering areas. A simple thing, such as improving water quality, can have a great impact on grass utilization, animal performance and return to investment.