Lawler Farms in Lee County, AL, is a purebred Angus cattle operation. The farm manager, Bruce Randall, recently turned a problem he had there into an asset for the cattle operation.
There was a seeping spring among several trees near one of the pastures that created a constant wet spot. The water seepage made the area muddy, unsightly and a problem. With the assistance of USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Lee County Soil and Water Conser-vation District, the spring was developed into a source of water for the cattle.
To develop the spring, a small clay core wall was constructed below the springhead, using clay found from a nearby site on the farm. A perforated collection pipe enclosed within a fabric filter sock was installed into the seep area. Small stone was placed around the pipe, and non-woven filter cloth was installed over the rock. This allowed the water to collect and drain into the pipe.
The water flowed by gravity to a watering trough for the cattle. The area over the pipe and core wall was then back filled and vegetated.
After reviewing an NRCS guide, Randall opted to use a large tire as a water trough. It proved to be a very economical and excellent trough. He estimates a manufactured trough of comparable size would cost about $150.
Randall used a front-end loader on his tractor to move the tire around, and a chain saw to enlarge the tire opening for livestock access. The bottom of the tire trough sits on a concrete slab. Randall seated the tire on the slab before the concrete hardened and applied a marine sealant. He then filled around the bottom of the tire with more concrete so cattle couldn't move it.
The trough contains a fill pipe and an overflow pipe, which is connected to a drainage pipe that carries overflow away from the trough.
In the heavy-use area around the trough, Randall used a non-woven geo-textile fabric beneath a minimum of 6 in. of crushed stone extending 10 ft. from the trough. This allows the heavy use area to stay clean, and any manure that accumulates on the area decomposes quickly.
Randall says the developed spring and the tire water trough are helping improve water quality in the pasture.
“The cows still have access to the small stream that flows through the property, but they prefer to drink from the trough. The tire is doing all I need it to do. It's a dependable source of clean water, and I plan to install more,” Randall says.
Eddie Jolley, NRCS conservationist agronomist, says it's not uncommon for livestock to have direct access to springs as their water source. But, the practice results in springs contaminated with manure and turns the spring area into a mud hole.
“Proper spring development involves protecting both the spring and its water quality from environmental damage and contamination, as well as improving livestock access to the water,” Jolley says.
Before beginning a spring development project, here are some considerations:
What water sources are available?
How much water will they provide?
What types of materials and equipment are required, and what are the costs?
What impacts will the development have on wetlands, or threatened or endangered species?
For assistance in answering these questions, contact your local NRCS office.
Julie A. Best is a public affairs specialist with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Auburn, AL.