Using Solar Power to Provide Animals with Water while Protecting Water Quality

Why Consider Solar Power for Watering Livestock?

The purpose of this paper and presentation is to show how we have been using solar powered watering stations to provide a clean water supply to livestock while also protecting water resources. The project was started as a way to assist farmers who had received funding from some federal or state agencies to improve water quality on and through their land. One way to improve water quality is to fence livestock out of local waterbodies. As a result of this practice, the farmer may lose the ability to water his/her livestock.  A secondary reason for the project was, since livestock did not have direct access to water, the farmer had to either carry water to the watering stations or use some form of energy (diesel, gasoline, electric) to provided needed water.

What did we do?

To help solve the problem, funding was received from USDA-NRCS through the Conservation Innovation Grant Program (CIG) to install solar powered livestock watering stations. Farmers were selected based on information from NRCs field personnel, County Extension Agents and other groups working with farmers to fence livestock out of the waterbodies. The first steps were to visit with the farmers to determine need for a solar powered watering station.

Through a first set of questions, it was determined: 1) if the farmer needed the watering station; 2) where the watering station would be located; 3) was there an existing well and pump and what was the source of energy?;  4) what would be the preferred energy source based on available electricity; and 5) would there be a solar system that could be designed to meet the need of the farmer (an initial design).

To further discuss these steps, we looked to see if the farmer needed the watering station. Was there was a means to put in a limited access watering spot so water was still available on a limited basis and still help with protecting water quality? The location of the watering station was determined based on plans to rotationally graze the pasture where the livestock would be located. If the livestock were to be rotated through a number of different paddocks, the suggestion would be to locate the watering station in the center of a rotation. Alternatively, could a solar powered pumping system be located in one place and pump water to various watering stations on the property? The third aspect of the initial planning process was to determine if there was an existing well or pump. If there was an existing well and pump, what was the source of power for the pump? If diesel or gasoline was being used, what was the cost of such a system on an annual basis? The next aspect asked if there was available electric power for a pump? If the answer was “Yes, there is power less than one-quarter mile” then it was suggested the farmer consult with the local power utility to determine the cost of running power to the proposed pumping location. Another aspect of this step in the process was where would the water source be and would solar even be viable due to shade or tree cover? The last aspect of the determination of using solar power was the ability of us to design a system based on the number of livestock that had or needed to be watered and the depth of the well (if currently in place), expected depth to groundwater, height from a surface water source to highest and most distant watering station, and distance of having to run pipe from water source to most distant watering station. If after going through all of these aspects with the farmer, it was determined that a solar powered watering system was a good option for the farmer, we worked with him or her to fully design a solar powered watering system, ordered the solar components and helped the farmer install the system.

What have we learned?

From this project we have learned that there are some locations that are not good for a solar powered watering systems due to location, distance to available power and economics. Most of the times when the system was determined to be non-economical, it was due to there being electric power within a short distance of the proposed solar installation site. Short distance here is defined as any distance that makes running electricity to the proposed water source location economically preferable to that of installing solar power. Sometimes location was not a good fit in that there was very little open space to install a solar powered system for pumping the water. Another thing we have learned is that the solar powered system needs to be protected or at least in a location where livestock cannot get to the panels and control boxes. In cases where small livestock are being watered, having the solar panels on poles above their height can be beneficial in providing maintenance for grass control. However, for larger livestock, the support structure and solar panels themselves can become scratching posts which can result in broken solar panels. One other thing we have learned is that based on the needs or direction of the local NRCS working groups, solar powered watering systems may or may not be included in the cost share options for farmers.

Future Plans  

Future plans are to work with County Extension Agents, NRCS, farmers and other groups promoting the use of solar powered systems for watering livestock in areas where this technology can protect water quality.


Gary L. Hawkins, Water Resource Management and policy Specialist and Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, Crop and Soil Science

Additional information                

For more information please contact

Sun-powered water source. Angus Journal. July 2013. Anderson, B.B.


Thanks to Mr. Gary Murphy for his assistance in installing and demonstrating the solar system in many different venues. Thanks also is extended to USDA-NRCS for funding the projects through the CIG program.

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