Sustainable alternatives to mains water - boreholes, pasture pumps and rainwater harvesting...

Friday 13 January 2012
Sustainable alternatives to mains water - boreholes, pasture pumps and rainwater harvesting...

In December, Cumbria Farmer Network organised a NW Livestock Programme demonstration event at Lowgrounds Farm, Plumpton, looking at alternatives to mains water. 

Kindly hosted by James Turner, farm manager for the Brackenburgh Estate, the event focused on sustainable systems of providing livestock with water and the speakers were two ADAS specialists, Dr Martyn Silgram and David Harris. 

Farmers at the eventADAS has been managing a nationwide Defra project looking at the costs and benefits of providing non-mains water for livestock with the aim of saving money and delivering sustainable water supplies to livestock in remote locations. 

The event started at Low Grounds Farm, where James Turner had installed a bore hole and an award-winning rain water harvesting system.  Over 45 farmers attended and were able to view these systems and a pasture pump which ADAS had brought with them to demonstrate. 

Borehole supplier, Braid Aitken, was also present with his drilling rig to answer questions and the Environment Agency discussed the process of obtaining abstraction licenses for installing a borehole.

James Turner explained that he had installed a bore hole in response to the rising cost of mains water (currently around £1 per cu m) and, together with his rain water Cumbria Farmer Networkharvesting system, he no longer uses any mains water for the farm business.  The rain water harvesting system water is used to wash down the dairy but is not used for drinking water because of concerns over the potential for salmonella to infect the water from bird droppings in the gutters.

After lunch at the Stoney Beck Inn, presentations were given by ADAS who discussed the costs and benefits of the different technologies including ram pumps, pasture pumps, PV pumps, borehole systems, Adas logoand rainwater harvesting.  James Webster from Promar also discussed the NW Livestock Programme resource efficiency audits and the new Defra grants which include rainwater harvesting systems.

A summary of the presentations given by ADAS is below:-

Borehole drilling machine at event


Boreholes are good for providing large volumes of water at good pump rates to replace the use of mains water.  They cost around £9,435 plus running costs of around £475 per year.  The installation includes the borehole, pumps, wiring and provision of a shed. 

Depending on the level of abstraction, it will be necessary to apply for a license from the Environment Agency and the application may need a hydrologist’s report to show how the abstraction might impact on other users in the catchment.  Electricity is required to pump the water at a likely minimum cost of £250 per year but a PV system could be installed to power the pump. Boreholes are able to supply water to up to 400 beef cattle or 200 dairy cows at a cost of 35p – 80p/ cu m. 



Pasture Pump in usepasture pumpPasture pumps don't require energy to run, are low maintenance and therefore suit remote locations particularly where there has been fencing off of riverbanks and streams. They are portable and can be placed within up to 50 metres away from the river. Each one will serve around 15 to 20 suckler cows and cattle learn how to use them in 3 to 5 days.

Pasture pumps require a hard standing/sleeper base and cost around £250 each plus installation cost of around £100. This equates to a cost of between 10p – 15p per cu m but they are only suitable for small volumes of water and can be affected by low flow rates in rivers and streams.



A Ram PumpHow a ram pump works

Ram pumps don't use any energy either, relying upon flow and pressure, and therefore can be installed at remote locations. They can provide water at a flow rate of around 5 litres/min and 7.5 cu m/24hrs. As with pasture pumps, their installation can allow for fencing of streams and they can be installed within 100m horizontal distance of the water source.

The pump works 24hrs/day. It is recommended that one ram pump is installed per 30 head of cattle.  The cost is around £2,500 for the pump plus £1,000 installation cost for the plinth/pit amounting to a total cost of 30p – 85p/ cu m. The video below explains how they work (and there are plenty more examples to be seen of working ram pumps on YouTube, some better than others, just search for "ram pump")




Solar PV systems cost around £1,100 and can pump around 3.5 litres/min and 5.25 cu m/24hrs.  They use no energy and are therefore suitable for remote locations allowing for the fencing of streams.  They can be installed up to 100m away from the water source. 

There is a maximum of 2m suction head and the pump will only work during daylight for around 8 hours per day.  The cost is around 35p/cu m.



Rain water harvesting systems can operate year round but can be unpredictable as they depend on regular rainfall (perhaps not a problem in Cumbria!). The volume produced depends on the roof area available and an annual rainfall of 1050mm/yr would produce 90 days water for dairy cows.  The water cannot be stored for more than three days without high treatment costs and the normal treatment is to filter and treat by UV.  The cost is around £5,500 or 92p/cu m.


The following table summarises the relative costs and capacities of the different systems.


Av. Capital cost

Capacity cu m pa

£ Total annual cost

£/cu m


£2,500 – £25,000

4,000 – 20,000

£950 - £3,800

0.35 - 0.88

Pasture pump




0.10 - 0.15

Ram pump

£250 to £2,500

750 – 2,750

£75 - £300

0.30 – 0.85






Water capture







More ideas on alternative water sources are available via the link below to work that has been done by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in Canada:

Alternative Livestock Watering Systems >> 


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