The most important thing to plan for with pasture-raised animals is where their water will come from. Having open access to the fields, they are not confined to a building to which water is pumped. For us, this meant an extensive and innovative water system, that starts with groundwater fed pond and over 2500 m of underground pipe. No matter where in the pasture our animals are, they are never more than 100 m from a direct source of fresh, clean water that gets piped right to them.
Throughout the year, water is piped from the pond and cleaned using filters and through a uv light unit. From here, this water is piped throughout the fields. It took over 6 weeks to dig the trenches, lay these pipes and install all the necessary equipment. Scattered in the fields located in strategic places are frost-free hand pumps which are connected in the summer to large water tanks equipped with level sensors to make sure there the tanks are always full – but never overflowing – with fresh water. In the winter of course, these tanks would freeze, which is where in ingenuity comes into play.
Our winter watering system involves the vertical installation of culverts to below the frost line, which are connected to the pumped water system. At the surface, are solar powered motion sensors. When an animal walks toward the culvert, the sensors turn on the pump, and the water is piped up to a small tank fitted at the top of the culvert. The animals drink their fill, leave, and then the water is released back down to below the frost line, so that nothing freezes.
Now you may think “why not just let the cow drink from ponds or even the creeks?”. This practice is not good for the creeks (promotes erosion, causes contamination) or the cows (can result in injury or sickness from contaminated water). In fact, there are many organizations, including conservation authorities, that advocate for the fencing of creeks to not allow access by livestock. We’ve done this!
Further, when we bought the farm the pond was online, that is it was bisected by one of the watercourses. This is fairly common practice for old farm properties, but can be hugely detrimental to the function of the watercourse, warming up the water and acting a barrier to fish movement. To rectify this, we created a bypass channel and took the pond offline, fully restoring the whole area.
This watering system also allows us to water our crops from under the soil, thereby reducing evaporation, and getting all the water the vegetables need using only a fraction of the water consumed by traditional methods – we don’t waste a drop!
It was for all of these measures that we won a Water Conservation Award from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority! Even more than this, the well being of our animals and the environment is paramount to us, and we’re happy we’ve been able meet both of these demands in an innovative and effective manner.