This article first appeared in the December issue of Drovers CattleNetwork.

Texas rancher Bob Durham is harvesting rainwater off his livestock barns on his Hale County ranch and using it to water his cattle.

Drought conditions and limited moisture from past years got Durham thinking about how his operation, near Plainview in the Texas Panhandle, could hold up to another severe drought. Livestock water is one of the first things to disappear in a drought, even though there may be forage enough for the livestock. Durham decided he wasn’t going to wait around to find out.

He initially contacted Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to request technical assistance to find out more about conservation planning measures that would enable him to collect and store rainwater for his livestock.

NRCS district conservationist Robert Unterkircher in Plainview put Durham together with NRCS engineering staff, and they discussed possible financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for an agricultural rainfall water-harvesting system.

“I’ve always had an interest in water harvesting,” Durham says. “Once NRCS and the soil and water conservation district let me know the conservation practice was available, I signed up.”

The storage tanks are 7 feet tall and 11 feet in diameter. The height allows water from the downspouts to run directly from the gutters into the storage tanks. The entire system operates on gravity.

Durham made an application for the water-harvesting catchment systems to be designed and installed on his two large livestock barns. He says he’s always made efforts to conserve ground water, and he wanted to take it a step further to capture and store rainwater for watering his livestock in his pastures.

NRCS staff helped Durham champion his plan for two barns, with an estimated size of 100 feet by 100 feet for each structure. The rainfall is captured in six, 5,000-gallon water storage tanks. Durham’s system also has a first-flush diverter to clean the water coming off the barn before it’s captured in the storage tanks.

Water is captured in gutters and then piped into the storage tanks, where there is an overflow pipe. The water is then transported through a gravity-flow pipeline to water troughs in the pastures.

“From each barn, 2 inches of rain would yield just over 12,000 gallons. This would be enough water for 25 head of cows for a month,” says Greg Sokora, NRCS agricultural engineer. “Four inches of rain would produce almost 25,000 gallons of water.”

Durham’s storage capacity is set up to store that 2 inches of rainfall. His grazing system is set up in eight pastures of about 38 acres each.

“The rainfall-harvesting system provides farmers or ranchers like Durham an option to make better use of rainfall by capturing runoff and storing for future use,” Sokora says.

Sokora says Durham’s rainfall-harvesting system uses 8-inch, galvanized-steel box bead gutters to capture the roof runoff. The polyethylene storage tanks are only 7 feet tall and 11 feet in diameter, which allows for the downspouts to run from the gutters directly to the storage tanks.

Durham’s system was designed with 8-inch gutters to capture the roof runoff, plus a first-flush diverter to expel the first water coming off the barns, along with any contaminants.

During the low-rainfall months of January and December, Durham is aware that his livestock watering system will require supplemental water. In contrast, during the summer months, he can likely plan on some storage tank overflow occurring from rainfall.

NRCS says the system should save Durham money because he won’t have to pump as much groundwater to the surface, plus it’s beneficial to the life of the Ogallala Aquifer. The life span of the system is estimated at 20 years. Durham also expects his water-harvesting system to reduce soil erosion around the barns.

Terry is a NRCS public affairs specialist, and Kieschnick is an NRCS intern.