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When the herd is a province away, you need reliable water

Beiseker rancher has solar waterer for 100 cow-calf pairs he grazes across the Saskatchewan border

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The phrase ‘remote watering’ takes on a new meaning on Duane Kent’s farm.

Kent lives in Beiseker (northeast of Calgary) but also has a four-quarter pasture more than 500 kilometres away in Biggar, Sask.

The site has no natural surface water and it would cost $30,000 to bring in electrical power. So he relies on a solar-powered stationary waterer to service the 100 cow-calf pairs he runs on a two-paddock rotational grazing system.

“It’s been fairly reliable,” said Kent. “You’ve got to realize it’s not a walk-away system. You do have to pay attention to it, but at the cost, we couldn’t even begin to run power there.”

The well and piping were already in place when he bought the land, but the previous owners were at the mercy of their water pump. It only kicked in when trough levels were low and meant that water ran out quickly in the case of a problem.

Kent has since added 3,000 gallons of storage on site, enough for a one-day grace period should he need to make the drive. He’s also strategically placed cameras on the pasture and synced the water system controls to his smartphone.

“One issue that we ran into is if we get too much solar, the pump doesn’t like too high of voltage and it would lock up,” he said.

The problem is quickly fixed by turning the pump off and on — save for the fact it’s in another province.

“A five-hour drive to take 10 seconds to flip the switch on and off is not a lot of fun,” said Kent. “Now, this season, we’ve added a control system that has relays I can control over the internet.”

Solar panels have also seen an upgrade this year. The system previously had 12 panels producing up to 750 watts but improved solar technology has allowed him to swap those dozen panels for just four (which produce 1,000 watts). The change will help deal with those hot but cloudy days when demand for water is high and solar energy is low, he said.

A battery backup was also added this year and is able to run the system for two days without sunlight.

“The nice thing about the well is we’re not worried about water quality,” Kent said. “This year was bad. There were a lot of dry areas and salt in the water in the dugouts and that became pretty bad.”

In fact, for some it was tragic. Poor dugout water quality is believed to have killed more than 200 cattle (worth $300,000) in southern Saskatchewan in July. The deaths occurred at the height of this summer’s drought. Tests found the water contained lethal levels of sulphate and high levels of dissolved solids.

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