View Full Version : Alternative Water Sources for Livestock: UPDATE

Strictly Classical
Aug. 11, 2010, 06:06 PM

I am having a very BAD DAY. I am in need of advice, and constructive suggestions.

The hubby and I have a little over 6 acres of land near our home that was purchased a few years back with the intent of moving our three horses on to it, and perhaps building a home on the site in the future. We had the site water witched, and came up with several good possible locations for a well site. Property has a fairly substantial creek along the back side of the property, and a small spring near the front side. Spring can run dry in late July through early fall though. The surrounding neighbors had had wells sunk, many of them had to go deep though.

Here is where we were probably really, really STUPID though. We went ahead and built a small, four stall shed row barn on the property, and have installed fencing around a large pasture area. We had an electrical pole installed so that the well pump could be powered fairly quickly and easily.

We are in a rural area, and certain things move slow around here. We researched our options for well drillers, and once we made our decision on who was going to do our drilling, we had to wait on the to get on site and do the job. In the meantime, we were getting other pieces of the "puzzle" into place, or so we thought.

We have spent parts of the last three days in the drilling process. We are at 1025 feet and we have a DRY HOLE that we are going to have to pay for. We are heart-sick, and we are going to have to make some hard decisions.

We are likely going to have to seriously look at sinking another well, with no guarantees. We are just scared to death of coming up with another dry hole.

I am wondering if anyone out there has been in a similar situation and what you did about it. I am also wondering if there are other options available for watering horses. Has anyone ever used water cisterns, or livestock tanks, and trucked in water and how well that works.

We are grasping at straws right now. This is NOT a good situation. I am wishing that we had waited to build the barn, until we had drilled the well. I am feeling so stupid for assuming that there would be ground water and that we would be able to access it without a lot of trouble. We live in the mountains of NC where many, many people live on well water. In many cases, the wells a deep wells, but also, in many cases, the wells provide a good, strong water supply.

If you have constructive comments or suggestions for watering alternative I would be grateful for your sharing. I don't mean to sound hateful, but I really don't need to feel any more stupid than I already do right now, about not putting in the water source FIRST. Thanks.

Aug. 11, 2010, 06:22 PM
don't have a good suggestion for you right now but


we all make mistakes -- if we are lucky we learn from them and others can learn from ours

you'll get through this -- take a breath

Strictly Classical
Aug. 11, 2010, 06:33 PM
Thank you; I am reduced to tears. Hopefully, by tomorrow morning, there will be a more positive perspective on things. My husband tells me we will work something out. This is not like someone having cancer, or something really, really bad happening. Its just a set-back. I guess he is right. Still, all I want to do is cry right now....

Aug. 11, 2010, 06:46 PM
Is the creek water not safe?

Aug. 11, 2010, 07:04 PM
Can you develop the spring?

If you dig down when it is 'dry', how far do you have to go?

I would develop mine in a HEARTBEAT if it was in a suitable location.

We had 'spring tanks on the Ranch. Large cement tanks, with a slightly larger input than drain. It ran, so in all but the longest frigid snaps, it stayed ice free. I only remember it freezing ONCE the 3.5 years I was there, and even then you could crack through it.

In the summer it would grow a bit of mossy algae, but we kept crayfish in there and it was wondefully clean and sweet. The water itself was never cloudy or green... just a bit of mossy stuff would grow, that did not proliferate nor cause an issue. (The horses liked the 'mossy' tanks better than the clean ones.

That would be the very first thing I'd look into.

Second, can you make an access to the creek? I use my brook when all else fails.

I feel your pain--but only sort of. Mine only went 286, but that was 186 deeper than planned... I can't imagine a THOUSAND. <thunk> :uhoh:

Aug. 11, 2010, 07:11 PM
It sucks to make unthinking mistakes, but I think we've all done it. Anyway, when we moved horses from our old farm to this one, I didn't have the county water turned on yet for various reasons, but we still had to water several horses on pasture. Our solution was to fill 5 gal buckets (with lids) in the back of the PU, drive them to the water tank, and dumped them.

Another option is a cistern. I'm not sure exactly how they work, but some folks around here have used them their whole lives. When they get low or go dry, they either hire the water truck to refill it, or take their trailer mounted water tank to a municipal source and fill it up to put in the cistern. I guy I used to work with did the trailer thing. He'd bring the trailer to work and fill up on his way home every so often. I think it was less than $5 to fill his tank and just guessing it was probably a 500 gal. tank. For reference- I use approximately 4000-5000 gal of water a month in the summer if the creek that waters the 8 in the big pasture goes dry- that's 2 people and 17 horses.

Aug. 11, 2010, 07:14 PM
Ouch. I'm sorry. But did you really think a "water witch" was reliable? :(

If you're not already hiring the best, most experienced LOCAL well driller to find water, do so. The local guys here know the area inside and out, and there are two of them--if one isn't familiar with an area, he tells the client to call the other guy.

Failing that, I would definitely look into tapping the spring, and installing large tanks to keep ahead of shortages. Don't know how that would work in deep cold, but the other option is to sink some more test wells--it happens, it's pricey, but all you need is one. :)

Good luck.

Aug. 11, 2010, 07:38 PM
One fellow here sunk 10 dry holes, then my friend asked me to come witch for them and see if there is any water there.:yes:
Yes, I too don't believe in witching, but guess that if all it is is luck, it seems I got plenty.;)

I found two very good, strong places my little baling wire indicated a good supply.
Not only that, the wires were showing even stronger for the owner than for me, although only weakly for his wife and not at all for my friend.:confused:

They picked one spot and hit an excellent well, that is watering their new house and horse and cattle pens.:cool:

The nearest of the dry holes was not 1000 yards away.:no:

I say, get a local driller that has been doing that for many years and knows what he is doing, so he doesn't just drill right thru the water zone.

Around here, windmills won't work in the dead of summer, not enough wind and many just have to haul water.
We use water tanks on trailers or trucks, until the wind starts blowing again and the windmills catch up.
There are also today plastic collapsible tanks you can put in the bed of a pickup and fill with water.
They come in different sizes:


Good luck and don't sweat it, just keep working at it.

Aug. 11, 2010, 08:06 PM
FWIW, I hauled water in muck buckets and 5 gallon buckets for one person, two dogs, five cats and six horses for exactly three months to the day in the dead of winter.

It can be done.

I actually prefer hauling from a real source to having to scoop out of the brooke, carry the buckets UPhill to the toboggan, and then have the horse haul the muck buckets UPhill to the tank. It's downhill from the truck to the tank. :p

Strictly Classical
Aug. 11, 2010, 09:15 PM
Oh my goodness - the responses! Thanks you guys! Honestly, we didn't put a lot of creedence into the water witching, but we tried to remain a little open-minded. Some of the older mountain people have been doing it for years, and its kind of like grandma's homemade remedies. Logically, the seem rather counter-intuitive, but on the off chance that there is something to it, we let the results figure in with other factors: especially the way the land lays, and the natural drainage patterns, the position of the spring (which is relatively nearby two of the well sites), and also the way the creek runs. Hydrologically, the spot we drilled seemed like a really good spot.

The well drillers are a father/son team, who came highly recommended. They are from the neighboring county, but have dug many wells over the years for people in our home county. I think they are a bit surprised as well. They seem like good honest people who would not try to rip us off.

My husband is a paramedic, and he is working a 24 hour shift today, so I have only been able to speak with him by phone. In a brief conversation a little while ago, I mentioned to him contacting our county Ag extension agent to see who we could contact about perhaps setting up a collection on the little spring, or maybe tapping into the creek. I think a major issue with the creek will be that it lies at the back of the property, and access would be down a very steep, wooded hill. I'm not sure how feseable an option this will be.

The cisterns/water holding tanks might be a possibility. Tractor Supply carries a good variety of large water holding tanks, some that will fit on a truck or trailer, and some even larger, that might be a possibility if all else fails. I just do't know how we would get them filled. My husband is a member of the volunteer fire dept. - I wonder if we could get the Fire Dept. to bring the water trucks over and fill us up! LOL!

My husband keeps telling me to try and not worry - that this is a set back for sure, but we will work something out. It may just have to come down to sinking another well.

The neighbor on the other side of us was also going to use the same drillers to dig a well for himself. They were digging ours first, then his. This old gentleman has lived off another spring for years, which provided water for his household and his orchards. He put in a well last Feb. at went almost 500ft. Unfortunately, it developed a sulfurous smell, and tested positive for arsenic - higher than the normal accepted limits. He has been coming over, and has been there right along with us through this process. I am afraid he may be having second thoughts now. Hubby will speak with him tomorrow. Maybe if we decided to sink well no. 2, and hit enough water, we can share with our neighbor and help each other off set some expense. I just don't know....

BTW - do any of you have an y experience with using dynamite to blast a well (after it has been dug -like ours has) to see if the bedrock can be fractured and water obtained that way?


Aug. 12, 2010, 01:26 AM
well my heart sank when I read 1025 feet and no water.

The neighbours just put in a well and the usual depth around here is 300-500 feet, but they hit good useable water with a decent flow rate at just 160 feet.

If you have the right, I would look into diverting part of the flow of the creek into a large concrete cistern or concrete lined dugout pond and perhaps with some draining back into the creek as an overflow so the water is kept somewhat flowing. It will provide water for your stock at least, and useable water for your washing, toilet or irrigating needs. My other neighbours have a 20,000 gallon retention pond they use to irrigate their fields- it is concrete lined and has a recirculating pump and contains water all summer long, from the spring runoff.

Trucking water is expensive and not practical for daily living, so I assume you are going to keep drilling, perhaps another site and eventually get water enough for a house.

So, good luck.

Aug. 12, 2010, 01:51 AM
Our place was built with a cistern, and we still have the cistern pump in the crawlspace under the house. Generally what is done is the roof is fully guttered and the gutters are piped together to drain into an underground container. We haven't looked for our old one, but the neighbor up the hill used a large brand new tank made for use as a septic tank but perfectly useable as a water holding tank (now he uses it as a tornado shelter, it's fairly big). If your barn is tall enough you could place a container just lower than gutter level and it would be a gravity fed water source that should be suitable for horses. There used to be things called tank houses where I grew up, they were tanks on a rick or elevated foundation. Shaker Village has an excellent example here in KY of a tank house.

We water one of the pigs with a 50 gallon plastic drum that is sitting on a pile of rocks higher up the hill, and the bunnies have automatic waterers attached to 5 gallon buckets. Great in the summer, we are working on something better for winter. (besides lugging hot water)

Anyway, you DO have options, and I understand how bummed you must be right now - I'll wish you the best of luck and hope things go better for you in the morning.

Aug. 12, 2010, 01:58 AM
A couple years ago my well went dry. The drillers couldn't drill our well deeper because it was located in our basement. We had to have a new well drilled in a notoriously dry section of NJ. When they hit 550 feet with no water I too was upset. The drillers came back and hydro frac'd the hole. I am not sure of the spelling but they shot water and air under pressure into the dry drilled hole to open up the water source. So far it has worked well. The cost of the hydro frac (think it is called hydrofracture?) Was about $ 1500. Wishing you the best of luck.

Aug. 12, 2010, 05:17 AM
What is your annual rainfall like? Would it be feasible to collect the water off the roof of the barn (and later the roof of your house), fed into a (usually) underground tank. You then need a pressure pump to pull the water out of the tank to fill troughs, service taps etc. You'd be amazed at the amount of water you collect in this way.

Strictly Classical
Aug. 12, 2010, 10:08 AM
phoebe - right off hand, I do not know our annual rainfall amounts, but it wouldn't be too hard to figure out. We live in the Blue Ridge Mts. range, and we get a fair amount of annual rainfall. So, your idea may be one that could work for us.

DistanceHorse - one of the neighbors suggested dynamiting the hole. He has a contact for us who could do it; he had his own well dynamited to fracture the bedrock, and increase the water flow. I did some online research last night, and came across hydrofracturing, which is sort of the same principal, except high pressure water (as you described) is used to fracture the bedrock, and open water veins, instead of dynamite.

From what I gather, when dynamite is used, it is a fairly low charge, and when its set off as deep as our dry hole is dug, then you really don't even notice it up top. It still scares me a bit, though, because there is still no guarantee that it will work.

Cat and RS - thanks for the suggestions about collecting the creek water - that may be worth looking into as well. Any suggestions on who we might talk to locally to help us explore the idea? Would a County Extension Agent be good for something like this? Thanks!

Aug. 12, 2010, 10:12 AM
I assumed you had been to your local Farm Service Agency, that also has the NRS office, soil conservation, there.

They can show you maps of your land and give you advice and some times cost share, that is help you pay for developing water, fencing, waterways and all that.

Go talk to them and see what they tell you.:yes:

Strictly Classical
Aug. 12, 2010, 01:17 PM
Bluey - Thank you!

UPDATE: After letting the well sit for about 16 hours, the drillers came this morning to find WATER had seeped in over night. At their best guestimate, they think the well filled up to about the 700 ft. mark, which means that roughly 300 gallons of water seeped in overnight. They blew the water out, gave it about 30 to 40 min. to refill, and think that we have a flow right now of about a gallon and a half a minute. They said there is a chance for the flow to increase some.

Please, if you are so inclined, say a prayer for us that things continue along a positive track. We are having the second well inspection done early tomorrow morning, then we should be able to move forward with installing the pump, etc.

This whole project went way over budget, but at least WE DO NOT HAVE A DRY HOLE IN THE GROUND NOW!!! I will never, ever take water for granted again as long as I live.

I am glad I posted this last night, out of my heart break and frustration. There have been many positive suggestion made on this thread, some of which we will file away for future reference. Perhaps the info. here will help someone else too!

Again, I thank all of you so, so much!!!

Aug. 12, 2010, 03:01 PM
Strictly Classical,
If you live in the NC mountains, your water probably lies in fractures and fault zones in the rock, rather than aquifers. Is this right? My husband is a geologist (I college minored in geology), and his retirement job is a well locating service that uses a hand-held geophysical instrument to find those fracture and fault patterns and then figure out where they intersect and at what depth for the most water. Bottom line is that a dry hole can be drilled 200 feet from a 50 gpm water well, if you miss the fracture patterns.

The process of trying to open up the small fractures that your well seems to have is, as others said, hydrofracturing or 'well fragging', and sometimes has very good results of opening up fractures or creating more fractures in the rock surrounding the well. I would do that.

With the depth of your well, the pipe should hold considerable water, so even a one gpm well should keep the pipe full, or for the horses, you could install a cistern.

If you do have water rights to the creek water, a long pipeline and strong pump could bring water to the horses, and leave the safer-to-drink water in the well for your house. Friends of mine who grow my hay get their water from a relatively shallow creekside well a half mile from their house and pipe it up, as they live over thousands of feet of shale.

Good luck!

Strictly Classical
Aug. 13, 2010, 10:40 AM
plumcreek - so glad you chimed in here, and sorry I didn't respond sooner. How interesting that you and your husband have a background in geology. In the last week, I have been given a bit of a crash course in some geological issues, and even though it has been frustrating, to say the least, it has also been interesting.

I believe you are correct about our location. We live on granite mountains, basically, and the water does lie in fractures. Sometimes an underground spring may be hit - there are some in our area - and then you gets lots of water available. However, most wells are tapping into the fractures/fault zones as you suggest.

For now, we will only have the barn and horses on this well. In the future, we may build on the property. Right now, we need to recover from this financial hit, but certainly hydrofracing is an option. Our well drillers told us that when you talk to those who do the hydrofracing, they claim that it helps about 95% of the wells that have utilized this technique. In their opinion, they were not quite so optimistic. I take it with a grain of salt, because I do not know how much experience they themselves have with the method.

Last night I was doing a bit more online research, and came across some interesting reading about a Well Management System that can be bought and installed. Essentially, it is a set up that involves using water storage tanks/cisterns in your home to store surplus water. It has been designed to aid low yield well owners, to provide them with enough water at any given time to meet household needs, etc. In some cases, enough water can be stored to irrigate lawns, wash your vehicles,etc. that require large volumes of water.

To be honest, we let nature take care of the lawns. My main concern is that we have enough water to take care of our horses w/o fear of running dry. Certainly, the well shaft can hold a considerable amount of water up to its static point.

I am wondering PC - where can we find geologically trained professionals, like your husband, who can come out and tell us where the liklihood of finding water will be? I hope we won't need to set another well, but in case we do the services of someone with this kind of training would be very, very valuable.

Thanks again for responding!

Aug. 13, 2010, 11:14 AM
My husband keeps telling me to try and not worry - that this is a set back for sure, but we will work something out. It may just have to come down to sinking another well.

Awww... hang onto him. Even if he *is* a Paramagic. (What's the difference between a paramedic and a puppy? A puppy stops whining after 18 mos or so... :p )

I would STILL contact FSA and look into developing the spring. They will help with costs.

They also will help with costs of footing access to the creek.

I am GLAD you found water, and will send up more than a few that it ends up being enough for you after all that... BUT... having spent 3 mos in the dead of Ice Station Zebra winter without water... I also would HIGHLY recommend finding a secondary source for problems/emergencies etc. (no electricity = no well pump = no water. Trust me on this. :dead: )

Aug. 13, 2010, 02:00 PM
Pintopiaffe is right, no power=no well water. So the storage tank in the house basement is always a good idea even without the low flow well. Same reason to always have a 100 gallon water trough at the barn, and not let it get too low.

If that stream is on your property, you should find out what rights you have to that water, if any. Same with the spring. Water rights are tricky and can be bought and sold, at least in my state.

A geologist, per say, cannot do more than look at the surface rocks and give an educated guess re what is going on underground. My husband's business involves geology, plus a little black box that 'reads' radio waves emited from military bases (to track submarines under the ocean) and interperts how the radio wave reacts as it passes through rock strata, fault and fracture zones. The water in the fault and fracture zones affects the radio waves differently than the surrounding rock. So, effectively, he can 'see' what is going on underground when the data is run through the computer program.

Pretty cool, and he has found a 60 gpm well by pinpointing the intersection of two faults when the surrounding owner's wells were all getting 1.5 gpm. To illustrate how tricky finding water is in hard rock fractures, the aforementioned 60 gpm well was a complete duster down to 400 feet (all, especially my husband and the owner, were pretty nervous), then they hit the fault intersection and whoooosh!

Some well drillers believe in this and recommend him to clients, and some still like water witching. Right.

Water wells are always high anxiety propositions in the mountains. At least you have good rain where you live.

Aug. 13, 2010, 02:49 PM
Our extra storage water has traditionally been a tank on top of a small building, most times the well house itself, if the well is not in there and needs to be pulled thru the roof.
Why? Because when you need the extra water, if the electricity is off, you still have water, just at gravity flow pressure, which is very low, but sufficient to get by.

If you have storage, try to set it so it is higher than where you need the water, so you can use it even if there is no pump running.

Aug. 13, 2010, 03:00 PM
My dad was a civil engineer and he kept a list of other professionals including geologists, there also may be such available in your town or counties' building departments.

Here's a link http://www.citykin.com/2008/09/shaker-village-at-pleasant-hill-ky.html showing the water tank building at Shaker village. Occupying the entire second floor of this building is a massive water tank that was filled from the creek down the hill by hand/horsepowered pumps and piping. There is a floating ball with a marker on top that you can see in the photo, which marked the water level and let them know from a distance how much water the tank had in it. This house was situated on a rise in the community and provided gravity fed water wherever it was needed. Obviously in that era people used a whole lot less water, and I'll tell you from experience that if you have to tote it/work to get it you'll use a lot less too.

"Head" is the term still used to describe how much water pressure you can achieve and it is basically the weight of the water and the height of the water in a gravity fed system. The cistern that I described was a roof water collector and needed a powered pump to feed the house but would have been gravity fed to any lower location on the property. Our next door neighbors back home collected their water from seeps higher on the hill and the one neighbor had an old winery tank roughly 20 feet tall by 20 feet around, the other bought a 12 x12 polypropolene tank, readily available in that area, as all new construction in the country on well water was required to have a water storage for fighting wildfires.

It's all out there, pretty interesting stuff if you look around. especially the Roman aqueducts!