Reducing the Algae in Your Livestock Water Tanks

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‘Tis the season of everything turning green. The grass, the trees, and unfortunately, our livestock water tanks. Algae in water tanks is a common problem many producers, farmers, and livestock owners face every year. It is hard to avoid, can be tough to clean, and frankly, it’s downright unsightly.

Algae living and growing in these tanks can pose many questions. Will it hurt my animals? How can I get rid of it? Is it really even a big deal? While it may not pose the biggest issue for livestock in this particular time of the year, there are still steps a farmer can take to avoid the hours and elbow grease spent scraping and scrubbing the algae out of tanks to avoid a takeover.

One of the most common questions is “will the algae hurt my horse, cow, goat, sheep, etc.?”  There is not a cut and dry answer to this question, but most commonly no, the algae itself will not hurt the animal. There are certain types of blue-green algae that may prove to be toxic to some species, but overall the problem with algae is water quality. This is where the issues with animals may come in. When water quality is affected, it may decrease the amount of water consumed by the animal. As the temperatures rise, getting water in these animals is essential.

To understand some of the methods of reducing algae in water tank, it is important to understand the algae itself. In order to grow, algae need sunlight, water, and a nutrient source. This nutrient source can be anything from organic material that has blown into the tank, manure, or even your animals’ saliva. Some methods of algae removal or reduction are as simple as limiting some of these essential factors.

One of the simplest methods of algae reduction is to put the water tanks in the shade. With limited sunlight, the growth of the algae will be limited. It will not remove the algae, or even stop growth completely, but it will definitely slow it down. The best shade is something like a shed or a barn, but if that is not possible even positioning the tank under a tree can cut down on the total amount of sunlight.

Another quite simple method of algae reduction is plain old elbow grease. While yes, this will add in some additional time, 5 minutes of scrubbing at regular intervals (every day, twice a week, etc.) can save quite a bit of time in the long run. Regular tank cleaning can aid in avoiding spending hours cleaning and scrubbing algae that has grown for weeks or maybe even months. While cleaning out existing algae, some of the nutrient sources for the algae will be eliminated as well. A long handled, stiff, scrub brush should do the trick. If you are worried about wasting water by turning the tank over regularly, consider turning the water off and  letting your animals drink the water down to almost empty first.

There are also some chemical methods to ridding your water tank of algae. Products such as copper sulfate are commercially available and can be added in certain amounts in water tanks in an effort to reduce algae. You can also mix up your own copper sulfate mixture, but special attention has to be paid to make sure you are mixing in the proper amounts. There are some things that need special attention when dealing with copper sulfate, however. Certain animals such as sheep have a copper sensitivity, and adding a copper sulfate into the water that they drink can prove to be more harmful to them than helpful. Copper sulfate can also be very harsh on metal tanks and metal piping, and it will shorten the useable life of these products.

One of what can be considered the most available way to control algae is common unscented household bleach. Some producers may tend to be a bit apprehensive towards this idea, but if done in the correct amounts will not pose a threat to the animals. Common practice is to add 2-3 oz. of bleach for every 50 gallons of water in your tank. Make sure the bleach is mixed uniformly throughout the tank. Heat will burn off the bleach eventually, so this should be done around once a week to continue to remain effective. Animals can access the water right after it is treated with no withdrawal time, but it may be best to give the bleach a few minutes to start working before letting your animals drink from the tank.

Controlling algae in water tanks is and will be an ongoing battle for producers in the summer time. With a few tricks and some elbow grease, your livestock can have access to fresh algae (almost) free water all summer long.