Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Bringing water to cattle

This ranching family has created water hubs in their pastures to support rotational grazing

The Dycks funnel cows and calves down an alley to a split, where calves go under a half-gate. Photo: Supplied

Sometimes a western Canadian rancher is faced with two things that just don’t seem to mesh or come together. It can become an “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go the mountain” type of scenario.

For Perry Dyck, owner and operator of Triangle D Land and Cattle Ltd. of Hanley, Sask., the two separated items were water and cattle. The locations of his water sources were impractical for his growing herd, so he decided something needed to be done to support the ranching operation of just under 350 cow-calf pairs and matching number of yearlings.

Dyck has backgrounded and grassed his calves over the last few years, selling them at around 850 pounds in the fall. This number of cattle combined with Saskatchewan’s variable summer rainfall forced him to make significant changes to his land and water base.

Designing the system

In 2004, he set out to design a system to make better use of his resources.

“It started out with my dad and me. When he retired, my son Brandon started helping. It’s been three generations working on this. We have built numerous water hubs for rotational grazing.”

He says groupings of three, six and 13 quarters of tame and native grass now contain numerous water troughs, all supplied from the available water sources. Most of the quarters have a trough and hub in the centre, creating four- to 40-acre paddocks per source, but a few of the earlier ones have them placed near an end.

They use electric wire around the water pens and position four gates as exits. “It’s very easy moving cows from one field to another if they think they need to move. They hear you coming, and they will be in the water pen, waiting for you to open the next gate.”

Digging in the piping

To bring the water to the cattle and the pasture land, Dyck originally rented a plow and set about digging in piping. His land wasn’t adjoining, but he had three good dugouts he used as focal points. Over the years, he has trenched in almost eight miles of one-and-a-half-inch PVC pipe.

He installed single horsepower submersible pumps at the dugouts to move the water.

“It’s just shallow pipeline, so only for summer use. We place the pipe 16 to 20 inches down. I usually turn the water on about the first of May when we start calving and blow out the lines around the 20th of October to keep them from freezing.”

Dyck says it worked so well they eventually bought their own pipe plow for further expansion.

“We were thinking of building one on a three-point hitch, but I saw this plow for sale and bought it. Saved me the trouble of building it. It picks the roll of pipe on reels, holds it above the plow and the pipe goes down through the shank and into the ground.”

Soon, his neighbours started noticing and became interested in how they could use the same type of equipment. Dyck now rents out his plow or occasionally does custom work for his neighbours.

Realizing the other benefits

“The cattle come into the pens so easily, we decided to build a branding trap or pen right off our water pen. It wasn’t originally in the plan but was an add-on. We nail 16-foot-long mesh hog panels made of quarter-inch rod to the posts along with some two-by-eights for support in the alley where the pairs come through.”

Dyck says that on branding day when the cattle are all in the water pen, if they time it right, they just close the gates. From there, they funnel them down an alley to a split where the calves go under a rail and the cows continue. The pairs follow side-by-side until the calves must turn off to go into the branding pen and the cows go straight out. He says the simple facilities have made it much easier to handle his cattle.

“We can sort off 125 pairs in probably eight or nine minutes,” he says. “We stand in the gate and let the cows pass and the calves just go under the rail. It works really well.”

He is very happy with the setup they have created and in the right situation, would continue to expand the water system if more suitable land became available. The one thing he would change, if he had a chance, would be to position all the water troughs in the centre of the quarters. Where the trough is near an end, the cattle are more hesitant to walk the half mile to water and tend to over-graze the area closer to the trough.

“It can be hard to get them to go down to the other end. The shorter walk is nicer.”

With some creative ingenuity, Dyck has designed a cow-calf handling system that is efficient and both time- and energy-saving.

“It’s really a good way to go. The handling system works really well just by making use of the water and the daily routines of the cattle.”

And the water hubs and underground piping make use of resources that may not otherwise be accessed properly.

“Even with poor weather conditions, you can get the water where you need it to be.”

Dyck may not be moving literal mountains, but he is bringing Muhammad closer to them, in the form of water.

COPA Medallion COPA finalist in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
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