Winter Cattle


MRPlQWi with Automated Solar Pumps

Ken Kelln & Paul Hanley

©2003 Ken Kelln & Paul Hanley with Automated Solar Pumps

Ken Kelln & Paul Hanley

©2003 Ken Kelln & Paul Hanley

Bessie and friends prefer the new solar powered watering hole at Termuende farm because it doesn't ice up in winter.

ood quality water—and lots of it—is a key to good health. This is true for animals as well as people, but often livestock have to depend on poor quality water, especially during the winter months. Solar energy is now being harnessed to provide better quality water for cattle, resulting in general health improvement and increased weight gain, and less damage to water sources.

Solar powered pumps have proven reliable, and are particularly cost effective for remote applications, such as pastures distant from the utility grid. Research shows that herd health is enhanced when water is pumped from wells, sloughs, ponds, lakes, and streams, instead of allowing animals to wade into water bodies to drink.

Winter watering in cold climates, such as the Canadian prairies and U.S. Great Plains, has presented a particular challenge to cattle ranchers, however, since it can be difficult to prevent freeze-ups of pumps and watering bowls. Several years ago, Kelln Solar of Lumsden, Saskatchewan developed a winter watering system that eliminates most of the freeze problems usually associated with winter watering of livestock. This system, which can be operated on solar electricity, is now working at 150 cattle ranches with excellent results.

How the Solar Pumping System Works

This watering system requires both a water source (either surface water, such as a dugout, slough, pond, or a seepage well) and also a "wet" well that is essentially a storage tank that receives water from the water body or seepage well. Water from the live or "wet" well is the direct source from which water is pumped into the watering bowl for animal watering.

The system uses a motion detector to activate a pump when an animal approaches. As long as there are animals present, the pump stays on. When the animals leave, it times out after 45 seconds and the bowl drains. To prevent constant starting and stopping, a delay is built in to allow the pump to continue running for a preset time. This delay allows the next animal to drink before the pump shuts off.

Water is pumped from a well casing into the bottom of a 24 or 36 inch (61 or 91 cm) diameter, double-walled water bowl. The water rises until it reaches a set of overflow holes that return excess water to the casing, so that water does not overflow onto the ground. All water in the bowl returns to the casing, draining through the submersible centrifugal pump (which is then off), preventing freezing.

Demonstration System

Kelln Solar installed a demonstration system at the Western Beef Development Centre's Termuende Research Farm near Lanigan, Saskatchewan in November 2000. The system, which was designed to water 130 animals, has functioned flawlessly since its installation.

For this system, a 200 foot trench was dug between a dugout (a pond dug for animal watering) and the location where the animals would be watered. A 2 inch poly pipe was installed in the trench below the frost line. To keep the pipe from getting clogged with dirt, one end was capped before we pushed it the last 6 to 10 feet (2-3 m) through the wet earth and into the dugout.

After we removed the cap, a screen was installed. A float was attached to keep the pipe out of the mud, but below the water surface or ice. The depth of the float, which is tied to a concrete anchor, is controlled by a rope. The other end of the pipe was attached to a 16 foot by 24 inch (5 m x 61 cm) fiberglass casing that is set vertically in the ground. The pipe connects to the casing 12 inches (30 cm) from the bottom, well below the frost line. Since the temperature below the frost line is approximately 40 degrees, the culvert acts as a heat vent allowing the hot air to rise, which also helps to prevent freezing. The bottom of the fiberglass casing was sealed with silicone.

Next we installed corral panels and a plywood wind shroud. The 2 inch steel post for the solar-electric array was set in concrete. We mounted the three, Uni-Solar, 64 watt, solar-electric modules nearly vertical to reduce snow cover on them, and to optimize for winter performance.

Four, Trojan T-105, flooded, lead-acid batteries are connected series/parallel for a 12 V system. They sit in an insulated battery box close to the array. We connected the control card to the batteries. Fused #14 (2 mm2) wires from the PVs plug directly into the system's control card.

All Kelln systems come with a temperature-compensated regulator, low voltage disconnect, and a relay-operated motion eye, which can be substituted for a standard "pump-up" float switch. Instead of the custom

Pros & Cons


• No freezing: all water drains back to the casing, eliminating the possibility of freezing.

• Few repairs: burnout or repairs are little concern because this system is designed without heating elements or adjustable controls.

• Little servicing: this is a very basic system with few moving parts. The water bowl is easily removed, allowing access to the pump.

• Natural heating: because the temperature below the frost line is 40°F (4°C), the culvert acts as a heat tube, allowing warm air to rise, reducing ice build-up in the casing.

• Utility connection not necessary: self-powered via PV.

• Minimal operating costs: once installed, there are few operating costs and no electricity bills.


• The solar-electric winter watering system is more expensive than AC operated water bowls (where there is ready access to AC electricity).

• System installation is more time consuming than a standard trough system.

• These systems are best installed before freeze-up in the fall; during the cold part of the winter (-30°F; -34°C), the system would be difficult to install.

motion eye used in the Kelln systems, some standard AC motion sensors with 12 volt relays can be modified to handle 12 volts. Heavy duty relays must be installed to withstand the on-off cycles of the system.

A molded, corrosion-resistant water bowl fits on the casing or live well. The Kelln, low-lift, C1 centrifugal pump is attached to the cattle watering bowl with 14 feet (4.3 m) of 1 inch poly pipe, and the pump and bowl are inserted in the 24 inch (61 cm) casing. The pump wires come out of the top of the casing and are protected from the cattle by being buried or installed in conduit.

A motion sensor was installed so that it points down, and only turns on when the cattle are 8 to 10 feet (2.4-3 m) from the bowl. The motion sensor wires and pump wires plug into the control card located in the battery box. No adjustments are required, since the motion eye is factory set to time out after 45 seconds.

Motion Sensor:

Turns pump on when cow approaches

Photovoltaic Panels: On pole mount

Water Bowl:

Drains after use

Termuende Farm Watering System

Note: For clarity, fences to protect water source, PV system, and shroud for motion sensor and water bowl not shown.

Insulated Box:

Contains batteries and controller

Wet Well: Culvert 2 or 3 feet in diameter,

16 feet long (2 feet above ground, 14 feet below ground)

Static Water Level:

7 to 13 feet below ground.


Dugout Intake:


Submersible Pump:

Controlled by motion sensor

Gravity Feed Line: 2 inch diameter, up to 200 feet long


Dugout Intake:


The system is surrounded by a plywood enclosure, limiting animal access to one direction. As a result, the motion detector is engaged only when animals actually pass in front of the water source. Another important function of the enclosure is to protect from the prevailing northwest wind, which tends to ice up some water bowls. Many of

A plywood shroud protects the motion sensor from i and the water bowl from prevailing winds.

A plywood shroud protects the motion sensor from i and the water bowl from prevailing winds.

these systems have been installed without wind protection and with steel casings, however, and none have frozen up despite weeks of -40°F (-40°C) weather.

Initially, we had to feed the cattle close to the bowl so they would find the water. But they seem to know about water and adapted quickly to the watering system. The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Adminis-ws tration's (PFRA) Water Quality Unit and the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC) collaborated to build this demonstration site for innovative winter or season-long watering options for livestock producers. The Saskatchewan government's Agri-Food Innovation Fund (AFIF) provided funding for this study.

Water quality studies at Termuende Research Farm are ongoing. There is not enough data yet to completely confirm the benefits of pumping water for livestock. But evidence in one year of the study shows weight gains as high as 27 percent from using pumped water compared to allowing cattle to drink directly from surface water.

System Adaptability

These watering systems can be adapted to suit any size herd. Larger systems have worked equally well with 400 to 500 animals on two bowls. Pumps can be operated from conventional electricity sources where available. For solar-electric applications, such as in remote areas, a typical system is simple and straightforward, consisting of three 64 watt solar-electric panels, a regulator, and two or more 6 volt golf cart batteries.

In addition to using a pond or dugout, this system can be applied to other water sources, such as seepage wells. When a seepage well is used, it typically involves an additional well with a 5 inch casing. A second pump delivers water to the sealed, 24 inch "wet" well, which becomes a holding tank. Water lines must run below the frost line.

Water levels can be controlled by a float switch located in the casing. Or if adequate water is available, a gravity feed can be run from the well to the casing below the frost line to prevent freezing. The water flow can be controlled with a float valve.

Of course, this winter watering system works equally well in all seasons; in warmer months, the system is effective in conserving water and electricity.

Recommended Practices

Our experience, and research conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and other research agencies has resulted in several recommended practices associated with this system.

• The solar-electric system should be properly sized for the number of animals you intend to water, so you do not run out of electricity. Generally speaking, one 64 watt panel and two 6 volt batteries are required for a herd of fifty animals.

• To conserve energy, the water bowl should be set up in a wide open area without shelter, so animals will drink and leave the site.

Technical Specifications


Panel manufacturer and model: Uni-Solar US64 Module STC wattage rating: 64 W Nominal array voltage: 12 V


Battery manufacturer and model:Trojan T-105

Battery type: flooded lead-acid

Individual battery specs: 6 VDC nominal, 225 AH

Total number of batteries: 4

Battery pack specs: 12 VDC nominal, 450 AH

Motion Sensor & Controller

Manufacturer and model: Specialty Concepts, 12 V, 12 A, custom circuit motion eye


Manufacturer and model: Kelln C1 low-lift centrifugal, 7 (Imperial) gpm

Note: All numbers are rated, manufacturers' specifications, or nominal unless otherwise specified.

• Animals should be fed as far from the watering bowl as possible, so that extra debris is not deposited in the water bowl and casing. The live well should be flushed every year.

• Water should not be drained back into any well source, to eliminate the possibility of ground water contamination.

• An elevated mound should be created around the live well to assist with surface drainage and to help prevent the penetration of frost. During thaws, an elevated watering location ensures a drier, cleaner, and safer watering site.

Herd Health Improvements

Research indicates that these automated watering systems improve animal health and growth, resulting in higher profits. Direct access winter watering usually means poor quality water. Manure buildup is common in and around water sources, and this problem is more evident in winter. As the ice melts in the spring, animal excrement introduces disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites into the water.

Excrement also introduces nutrients, which can cause excess algae and plant growth during the summer months. Some cyanobacteria, often mistakenly referred to as "blue-green algae," produce toxins that can be fatal to livestock when ingested in large quantities.

An additional problem is trampling and browsing by the animals, resulting in the destruction of vegetation along the

Watering System Costs



3 US-64 solar-electric panels


4 Trojan T-105 batteries, 6 V

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