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Nose Pumps: An Animal-Powered Watering Option

By   /  July 29, 2013  /  2 Comments

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ReasonsForMovingAwayFromWaterLots of folks use streams, springs and ponds to water livestock in pasture.  It can be convenient and easy.  But it’s not always the best for animal health or for preventing bank damage and erosion.  True, alternatives that move animals away from open water can be more expensive in terms of time and money.  But one choice, nose pumps, can be quick to install, portable, and relatively inexpensive.

What’s a Nose Pump?

As the name suggests, nose pumps work when the animal pushes a lever with its nose.  Each press of the lever draws about a quart (1 liter) of water into the trough from a water source.  One pump can serve about 20 cow calf pairs, so multiple pumps may be required to serve larger herds.

While nose pumps have been modified to work with smaller stock, they are most suited to bison, horses, beef or dairy cows. Young calves have difficulty operating the pump, so farmers modify their installations to meet calves needs. The picture below shows how a rancher drilled a small hole in the nose pump’s trough and added a catch basin to serve them.  You might also consider the new “Nursing Cow” model from Aquamat.  The new design encourages calves to drink by capitalizing on the young calf’s instinct to eat close to mama’s muzzle, and eat whatever she eats.  It has a small bowl on the side of the main drinking trough with a connecting channel so that when mama pumps water, the calf can put its head almost against hers and drink from the little bowl.


Successful Installations

The base here is permanently installed. Pumps were picked up and moved when it was time to head to the next pasture. Click on the video to see how they installed the hoses too!

The base here is permanently installed. Pumps were picked up and moved when it was time to head to the next pasture. Click on the video to see how they installed the hoses too!

Nose pumps should be installed on a sturdy ground-level or raised base.  Some farmers use railroad ties that they can hook onto to drag the pump to the next pasture.  Others prefer to leave the base in place, and detach the nose pump to move it to the next location.  An example of this is the permanent base installation for the Keohanlane Farms in Canada.  (Click on the photo to see the short Youtube video describing the nose pumps and how they installed their hoses to prevent clogging and to make them stay under water.)

Whatever your base, keep in mind that the further the pump is from the water source, the harder the animal will have to push to draw water into the trough.  Manufacturers recommend that you limit distance from the water to 20 feet (6m) of lift (the distance uphill from the water source) and 200 ft (60m) of total distance away from the water source.  A foot valve at the end of the hose will keep water in the line.

Nose Pumps for the Winter Time

Once freezing temperatures arrive, most nose pumps will no longer work.  That’s why a producer in Alberta developed a nose pump that can be used all winter long. Each FrostFree Nosepump can water 100 animals each.  Nosepumps are installed on top of a 24″ minimum culvert set vertically into the ground deep enough to capture geothermal heat and prevent water from freezing.  You can find more detailed information about installation specifications at their website.

Training animals to use the nose pump

Animals new to nose pumps will need a little training.  You don’t have to train the entire herd though.  Start with a small group of 15 to 20 animals and make sure that their only source of water is the nose pump.  Fill the pump’s trough with water as “bait” letting them see, smell and hear the water.  Then give them some time to check out the pump and figure out how to use it.  To avoid frustration, it’s best to walk off.  You can repeat the “baiting” process if necessary.  Animals learn fairly quickly and then will teach the rest of their herd mates and offspring.

Want to see nose pumps at work?

Here are a couple of videos:

FrostFree Nose Pump

Pasture Pump


ClicktoJoinNose pumps may not work for everyone, but they are an alternative to consider.  If you’ve used them yourself, add a comment below to share your experience and recommendations with the On Pasture Community.

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.


  1. Nice to see the publicity, but we need to make a clear distinction between diaphragm nosepumps and the piston pumps. Because the action is different, we have found we can easily water 100 head per pump (50 pair) and multiple pumps can be mounted on the same well for larger herds. We have customers watering 500 cows on one well with 4 Frostfree Nosepumps. Just needed to clarify that. Thanks.

  2. Pat says:

    Tried an Aquamat for my Dexters this spring, and couldn’t be happier. A small breed, I had concerns about them having the heft to make it work, but literally within hours everyone was pumping their own water. Spring babies who “played” with the pump soon could get a squirt on their own. After reconfiguring paddocks to run perpendicular to the creek, we made several permanent stanchions and I move only the pump with rotations. Really easy.
    Must point out, also, what a great solution it is for protecting the riparian buffer. Muddy cows, shoreline erosion, and downstream disturbance is eliminated as well.

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