Automatic watering systems conserve water because they only use as much water as your horse can drink.
In most parts of North America it’s that rare time of year when we stop thinking there is too much rain and start worrying that we aren’t getting enough. Here are some tips for horse owners on how you can use water wisely throughout the summer--and even into the rest of the year:
- Continue composting. If you’ve been composting horse manure and spreading it on your pastures, landscape, lawn and gardens, your plants are better prepared for dry weather than most. Soil that has been amended with compost absorbs water easily, drains well and retains moisture—the end result is that your plants fare better in dry weather. If you haven’t been composting, there’s no better time than now to begin! To learn more on composting check out Managing Mount Manure, Spreading Compost or Manure Composting for Waste Managment.
- Use mulch. Using mulch (wood chips, compost, bark, dry grass clippings or even spent bedding) around landscaping plants will significantly reduce evaporation on the soil surface. And added benefit to mulching is it cuts down on weeds.
- Water deeply. Whether you are watering pasture or landscaping, watering frequently in small amounts encourages plant roots to grow more shallowly, resulting in poor growth and disease. Water deeply but less often to encourage roots to grow deeper.
- Water efficiently. Water in the evening hours when evaporation is less likely. For maximum efficiency in landscaping use drip irrigation, micro-sprays or soaker hoses wherever possible. The idea is to apply water directly to the soil with minimal evaporation or runoff. Soaker hoses (which sweat water along their entire length) will only save water if they are used for the right length of time. To moisten the top 6 to 12 inches of soil, a soaker hose may need to be run for about 30 to 40 minutes for loamy soils. Sandy soils may need less time; clay soils may need more.
- Consider using roof runoff for watering horses or livestock. If you have fiberglass or metal roofs on your barn you can devise a system to divert downspouts into stock watering tanks using existing downspout equipment or you may be able to design something yourself. (Note that this practice is not recommended for those with composite or shingle roofs.)
- Automatic waterers. Automatic watering systems conserve water because they only use as much water as your horse can drink. Look for systems with moderately sized water pans—a large one will get dirty quickly and full of algae, requiring you to clean and dump it frequently. Another advantage to an automatic waterer is that since water is circulating and not stagnant, it won’t provide habitat for mosquitoes. At Sweet Pepper Ranch we put in Richie brand automatic waterers and I love them. They are chore-efficient and offer the peace of mind knowing your horse always has a supply of fresh water available. This style of waterer doesn’t require energy to run and since they only hold five to ten gallons at a time, they are quick and easy to clean—and you don’t waste large volumes of water when you clean them as you might when dumping a stock tank. In addition, they are insulated to help keep water cooler during the summer and to prevent freezing in the winter.
- Pervious footings. Wherever possible, when putting in driveways, wash racks, parking areas, roads or patios, consider putting in some kind of pervious footing such as pervious pavers with sand in between. The water-permeable nature of the product allows rain and surface water to pass through to recharge aquifers, instead of running off into storm water systems. Even a gravel driveway is better and more pervious than concrete.
- Rain barrels and cisterns. Another great way to save water, particularly if you live in an area that gets summer rains, is to use rain barrels or cisterns designed to capture and store rainwater coming off a roof. Usually these attach to a downspout and consist of a storage container (usually plastic), a system for diverting downspout water into the container, and an overflow that diverts water away from the barn or building, allowing overflow to percolate into the soil. Cisterns are above or below ground water storage systems designed to store a large portion or all of the water needs of a building, landscape or animals. Rain barrels are usually used for a smaller water supply such as for flower garden needs.
- More resources: For information on current drought conditions, visit NOAA’s State of the Climate Drought website. For more ideas for on ways to reduce water use, Seattle Public Utilities's Smart Watering guide is a great resouce.
P.S. Maybe you have some water conservation tips to share? I'd love to hear them!
About the Author
Alayne Renée Blickle, a life-long equestrian and reining competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program. Well known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approaches, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners for over 15 years teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Alayne and her husband raise and train their reining horses at their ranch in sunny Nampa, Idaho.