Key Considerations for Proper Water Management

Key Considerations for Proper Water Management

By Maura Keller

As the heat of summer takes hold, many producers’ attention turns to ensuring their livestock receives an adequate water supply during the warmer months. From evaluating the effectiveness of a current watering system to determining the benefits of an upgraded system, concerns that producers face about water equipment are as varied as the systems themselves.

Mike Ragsdale, one of the owners and creators of RPS Solar Pumps in Woodland, CA, points out that pumping water is not a one-size-fits-all project for producers. Every day, the RPS Solar Pumps team hears from producers nationwide who inform them of current challenges on the ranch, including finding equipment that can adapt to drought conditions, the cost of hauling water, the repairability of pump equipment, sizing systems for long pipelines to distant pastures, and adapting water pump equipment to surface water applications.

“Not to mention we also hear about producers’ concerns about electricity costs, and many producers’ desire to put in some sort of backup system to ensure water delivery even during times of grid blackouts,” Ragsdale says.

The team at RPS Solar Pumps are also finding people want more knowledge and the ability to work on their own water pump equipment. When they understand the system and work on the equipment themselves, downtime is reduced during critical times when water is needed.

“Sometimes, a water system can be down, with an installer booked out for days, when the fix only takes a few minutes. Having the knowledge and experience to work on the equipment themselves can prevent costly down time,” Ragsdale says.

RPS Solar Pump’s primary business is providing solar water pumps to ranchers, farmers, and off-gridders all across the USA and parts of the world. They work with people from all sorts of backgrounds and all levels of experience daily to help understand their water needs and help plan a solar water pump system that will accomplish their goals.

“Sometimes this is a simple submersible well pump into a stock tank; other times, it can be a more complex multi-pump pressure system,” Ragsdale explains. “We like to say, if you have a water pumping need, we have a solar pump system that will work for you.”

As part of every interaction, the RPS Solar Pump team walks customers through every part of planning a solar pump system. This includes going over their initial needs, their initial plan, and then helping modify that plan to make it work with the types of solar pump systems available. As Ragsdale points out, part of every interaction with a customer includes helping to plan and size a complete water system, from recommendations on what pump to use, to plumbing diameter, to suggestions on frost-free systems. RPS even provides “turnkey” water pump install solutions, taking the guesswork out of installation for first-timers and old-timers alike. Kits include all the pipe, wire, and stainless steel plumbing sized appropriately to a producer’s specific project.

Key Considerations
When selecting a new watering system, producers have plenty of attributes to consider. Solar or traditional? Size requirements? Proper placement? Continuous flow? According to Jamie Koepke at Hoskins Manufacturing, a manufacturer of watering systems in Hoskins, NE, the key factor for producers to consider is the type of watering systems that would best suit the producer’s facility.

“The producers need to make sure they have a big enough drinking capacity for their animals along with fresh clean water daily. If an animal isn’t getting adequate water supply it can be vital to their health,” Koepke says. Other key factors to consider include the availability of water and electricity to the site. In addition, the water lines need to be big enough to get plenty of water to the tank for the animals.

“Make sure you have a big enough tank so all the animals can get to the water,” Koepke advises.

Hoskins Manufacturing offers several different sizes of automatic electric and continuous flow waterers, all of which are insulated with R-Tech insulation. Having been building waterers since 1966, the company has improved the heating aspect of its waterers with newer insulation. Along with that and proper installation, livestock can have fresh water in the summer as well as the cold days of winter. The company’s stainless steel tanks are easily cleaned, durable and a cost-effective option.

In addition, when sizing a water system for a well, Ragsdale says producers need to consider:
• Production ability of well
• Well depth and static water level in the well
• Horizontal and vertical lifts/elevation change from well to tank
• Number of cattle
• Amount of storage onsite/number of tanks used
• Need for freeze protection
“First, evaluate your well or spring’s production ability because that will limit how much water you can reasonably pull at a given time. Next is to estimate the water’s depth in your water source, and add any elevation changes and pressure needed after reaching the surface,” Ragsdale says. “This allows for a calculation of ‘Total Dynamic Head’ which, when paired with the volume of water needed per minute or per day (informed by tank size and head of cattle), allows for the selection of a style of pump (helical vs. centrifugal) and a size of motor and solar array.”

The RPS team always recommends adding storage tanks to cattle solar systems, even if they already use stock tanks. Especially with low-flow wells, ranchers express concern that the pump by itself may not be able to supply enough water at a single point in time. As Ragsdale explains, the whole point of pumping water from a well is to get the liquid above ground and use tanks as “water batteries” around the property.

“This allows pumping from sun up to sun down, storing away as much water as your well allows, and then you can use water as needed as your cows drink during sunlight hours and nighttime,” Ragsdale says. “That way, you alleviate any stress about managing when the cows will come into drink or how many at once. Planning the amount of storage will allow your system to keep up with demand even on the hottest days.”

Want to save money on drilling a well? Consider what surface water resources are available. Ponds? Streams? Springs? According to Ragsdale, producers are pleasantly surprised to hear that RPS solar submersible pumps are often floated horizontally to pump out of a stream or pond, and tied off to the bank for safety. A popular setup includes submerging a barrel near the edge of a stream, with a submersible pump inside the barrel. Another option is to utilize a solar-powered surface pump that suctions and self-pressurizes water out to tanks.

And in this age of economic uncertainty, Koepke points out that producers are facing increased pricing and everyone is looking for the best “bang for your buck.”

“Our product is built tough for all types of livestock. They are built with galvanized metal frames and stainless steel tanks, so the waterers will last for many years,” Koepke says. “We encourage producers to do their homework. Make sure you have a big enough water tank to supply the livestock with enough water. Also, talk to fellow producers before purchasing a water system. Our motto is ‘Quality Doesn’t Cost It Pays.’ It might cost more up front but buying a quality product will pay off in the future.”

Continuous Evolution
As with most technology, water equipment has evolved in recent years. Choice and affordability are where much of the evolution has occurred in solar pumping for cattle operations. As Ragsdale explains, producers now get to select from various systems they can build together with accessories to provide water for animals in challenging locations – not a “one size fits all” solution.

“As solar panels and motors have become more efficient, costs have decreased significantly for smaller systems that only need 200 watts of solar,” Ragsdale says. “The systems are very modular and mostly plug and play making setup and installation easier than ever.”

On the other end of the spectrum with advances in electronics and solar panels, there are now large solar pump systems that can reach depths up to 1,000 feet or pump up to 400 gallons per minute, using only 7,500W of solar power to power a 5HP submersible pump.

At RPS Solar Pumps, they now use ultra-efficient permanent magnet brushless DC motors for a majority of their systems. “We wholeheartedly prefer these motors compared to their induction and brushed counterparts,” Ragsdale says. “You never have to replace carbon brushes; less heat is generated, meaning longer and more efficient operation for years. We are always trying to incorporate advanced technology into our systems to provide further benefits. These include our wireless solar-enabled tank-full system, which autonomously shuts off a pump when the tank is full up to five miles away – all without running conduit long ways through rough terrain, as was required in the old days.”
Ragsdale adds that producers should look for companies that allow you to self-install.

“We know USA ranchers and farmers want to protect the right to repair. Several water pump companies will void your warranty if you attempt to self-install or self-troubleshoot. Skip any submersible pump that isn’t constructed with a 100% stainless steel exterior or offers a genuine warranty from a brand that has been around for years,” Ragsdale says. “As with many products these days, there are lots of fly-by-night vendors making claims of price, support and warranty, yet offer only an offshore email address for support. We call ourselves a ‘DIY Success Company; as our goal is to support rural folks who believe in doing the job themselves and doing it right the first time. With this knowledge, they can take control of their water supply and save fistfuls of money while doing it.”

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