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Managing Dugouts Efficiently

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   May 5, 2012 10:29


Leah Clark – Regional Livestock Specialist, Weyburn
Colby Elford – Regional Livestock Specialist, Moose Jaw

Although most cattle producers are in the midst of calving season, it is not too early to start thinking about getting pairs out to pasture.  Many producers have a system of grass management that they put a lot of time and thought into.  Often water quality and availability is an afterthought, but because water can have such a drastic impact on production and performance it is a good idea to ensure lots of good quality water is available to all animals.

Using a dugout as a summer water source is common practice in this part of the province.  Getting the dugout ready for the grazing season is extremely important and can have big influences on the quality and availability of water for your livestock. There are a few things to consider when preparing a dugout for use.

The first, is addressing the issue of dugout nutrient loading. Nutrient loading of dugouts leads to increased bacterial and algae growth. Some of the bacteria and algae that grow in our dugouts can cause off tastes in the water, sickness and in some cases death. The best way to limit nutrient addition to dugouts is limiting livestock accessibility to the dugout. Restricting direct access to dugouts from livestock not only extends the dugout life by reducing trampling and collapsing of banks, it allows forage growth which helps to trap nutrient run off. Restricting access also reduces fecal and urine addition to water. Some producers are eligible for funding to install an offsite watering system. Research has shown that cattle will choose to drink from a trough rather than the source.  Using an offsite watering system improves both dugout health and animal productivity.

Summer heat, nutrients and sitting water is the perfect combination for algae growth in our dugouts. This may be a concern, as cyanobacteria, commonly called blue green algae, produces toxins that have the potential to cause sickness, and in some cases death, when consumed by our livestock. Algae is easy to prevent with the addition of one of the registered copper sulphate treatments available for dugouts. Growth of algae occurs as water warms so prevention entails an initial dose followed by visually inspecting dugouts and adding the treatment when necessary as algae growth is observed. It’s important to note that correct doses should be used as toxicity can occur if too much product is added.

Aeration can also have tremendous long term positive effects on dugout water quality. In a study done at WBDC near Lanigan, SK. Yearlings gained 0.2lbs per day more when drinking aerated water compared to water straight from the dugout. Aeration helps to prevent algae growth as well as decreases the population of anaerobic bacteria in our dugouts. Examples of anaerobic bacteria effects in dugouts include ammonia formation and hydrogen sulfide gas which are associated with odor and poor palatability.

For more information, you can contact the agriculture knowledge center at 1-866-457-2377 or visit our website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca.

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