Lots 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.
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
Nose 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.