Cattle at watering tank

Answer Key Questions Before Choosing a Water Pump System

Every water pumping option has good and bad attributes. It will depend on your goals and requirements as to which system is the best. Here are some questions to ask yourself before choosing a system.

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The costs of watering livestock inevitably leads to the question: how will you power the water pump?

If you can get the electric company to run a line to your well for less than about $10,000, you might wish to stay with the electric company. Of course, you will have a monthly energy charge from the electric company.

A solar-powered pump system will cost about $7,000 (not including piping, storage tank, wiring, well, etc.) and a windmill will cost about $10,000 (windmill stand, motor and not much more).

Wind-powered electric motors will be similar in price to the solar-powered pump systems. Remember, even if you do not connect to the electric company’s power system, you will have maintenance expenses associated with each system.

Before choosing a system, you will need to answer the following questions.

  • How deep is it to my water when I am not pumping?
  • How many head will be drinking from this tank?
  • Will I be using this pasture in the summer (when cattle are very thirsty) or the winter?
    (We use a figure of around 20 gallons/head/day in the summer when we are calculating water requirements for cattle. You do not want to underestimate your water usage.)
  • What is the total depth of the well?
  • What is the inside casing diameter and what casing material was used?

The answers to these questions will provide a starting point as to what pump size is needed and if the pumping system can supply enough power to run it. There are more questions; however, this should give you a starting point on the information you will need to determine the right pumping solution for your ranch.

Wind-powered vs Solar powered pumps

In general, mechanical windmills and solar pumps are best for small quantities of water and low pumping head (head refers to the elevation difference between the water and the tank). Wind-electric systems appear to be better suited for large-scale livestock watering applications.

Water pumping with wind power dates back almost 1,000 years. The amazing thing is that the basic design of these windmills has not changed for about 100 years. Windmills work very well at low wind speeds, so they tend to give more reliable water supply than wind-electric systems. You need to change the oil each year on the windmill motor. Have you ever done an oil change in the air?

Solar powered pumps use solar panels to create electricity that provides the power to the water pump. Cloudy days will reduce the amount of water pumped. A water-holding tank that can store about three to 10 days’ worth of water for your cattle is recommended. Solar systems have some benefits over wind systems, but there are also some limits. As the well gets deeper, the number of gallons per minute that can be pumped is reduced. You can get around this somewhat by increasing your pump size; however, you will then need to add more solar panels. This can be costly if you require high volumes of water or if you have very deep wells.

Wind-powered electric pump systems use the wind to generate power to operate the submersible pump. This system is more efficient over a wide range of wind speeds. It can pump higher volumes of water, and the wind turbine can be placed far from the well. The major selling point of the wind-electric system is that it usually needs much less maintenance than traditional windmills.

As you can see, each pumping option has good and bad attributes. It will depend on your goals and requirements as to which system is the best. I encourage you to visit with a master electrician and discuss a grounding system to help protect your submersible pump from lightning.

Finally, don’t forget about the casual trespasser with a gun. You know the type everything in your pasture or paddock is a target of opportunity. As for placing your solar panels or windmill next to the road, you might need to choose the smallest target.

David Annis

David Annis, former Soil and Crops Consultant

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