(MOUNT SOLON, VA)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has an innovative solar powered livestock watering station is now available to lend to farmers on a temporary basis. The mobile unit uses the sun's energy to pump water from any nearby creek or pond to tanks that replenish watering troughs.
"This mobile watering station can be a real game-changer for a lot of farmers here in Virginia," said CBF Watershed Restoration Scientist Matt Kowalski. "It's an affordable, portable, off-the-grid solution for grazing cattle in fields that don't have a permanent watering system. Farmers who lease land can move it between farms. Plus, by keeping livestock out of ponds and streams our local waterways stay healthy."
The unit's multiple benefits for livestock, farmers, and the environment include:
- Lower cost when compared to installing a well and permanent system. A portable solar unit can be built for less than $6,000;
- Mobility that allows it to travel between fields and from farm to farm so that livestock can graze new areas;
- Improved soil health as cattle don't put continued pressure around permanent troughs; and
- Cleaner surface water as there is no need for cattle to venture near streams and ponds to drink.
Research shows that cattle don't graze as well when they have to travel more than 800 feet for water. But with this unit cattle can avoid long trips to existing troughs. CBF Field Technician Alston Horn experienced the benefits firsthand when testing the new watering station on a family farm in Mount Solon.
"By being able to contain the cattle in one field and not making them go to another field for water, we can now allow those other paddocks time to rest," said Horn. "When there is adequate forage we can move the cattle back to those fields."
The watering station also reduces nutrient pollution from livestock to local rivers and streams. Healthy buffers of native plants, shrubs, and trees along waterways help absorb and filter waste from livestock before it can run off into streams. The watering station means cattle don't have to get close to waterways, keeping waste out of streams and allowing these buffers to thrive.
CBF is now accepting applications for farmers who would like to try out CBF's demonstration unit on a temporary trial run in 2018. Those interested in applying can contact Kowalski at [email protected] or 540-233-1066. Two other solar watering stations in the Shenandoah Valley are in use under a pilot program by Virginia Cooperative Extension.