Collecting Rainwater on the Homestead

collecting rainwater

Although I didn’t grow up on a farm, I remember visiting my grandparent’s farm and my uncle’s ranch as a child. I only have a few memories of what I saw there, but one regarded water. They had downspouts that flowed into water troughs. So, when we moved to our homestead in 2002, we immediately put water troughs under two of the downspouts on the barn.

I had no idea at the time, but this was the reason we didn’t see a copper deficiency problem until our second year. Our well water is high in sulfur and iron, which bind with copper and causes copper deficiency in goats. When we only had a few goats, they drank rainwater almost exclusively. But as our herd grew, they drank more, and we had to use more water from the well. Because our bucks were in a remote pen, away from the does, they had well water exclusively, which explains why none of them ever lived past the age of three for the first five years we had goats.

collecting rainwater

After learning that our goats had a problem with copper deficiency because of our well water, we added rain barrels under a third downspout on the barn. It started with one rain barrel that was purchased from the local community college when their horticulture club was doing a fundraiser. We quickly discovered that the barrel would fill up with a short summer shower. To increase our storage capacity, my husband cut a hole in the side of the original barrel, near the top, and added a PVC pipe that goes to another small water tank.

We even had a third tank overflow connected to the second one, but it cracked, and we haven’t replaced it yet. If you live in colder climates, you can’t use rain barrels during winter. The challenging part, however, is figuring out when you have to drain the tanks. Of course, we don’t want to do that. We want to give our goats rainwater as much as possible because it’s healthier for them. We watch the forecast closely, and we don’t drain the tanks until it looks like temperatures will fall so low that it will be able to freeze the water in the tanks. We’re usually pretty good at it. But a couple of years ago, we missed. The water froze, and it cracked the tank across the bottom, which means it won’t hold any water at all.

If you have goats, I wouldn’t really recommend big water troughs like the one in the top photo. That’s perfect for cows and horses, but goats are picky. If someone poops in the water or it looks dirty to them, they won’t drink it. Do I have to tell you what a huge pain it is to clean out a big water trough? And it’s heart breaking to toss a bunch of rainwater. So, if I were starting from scratch, and I had mostly sheep and goats, I’d just get the water collection barrels and use them to fill up buckets. And when putting together several barrels with pipes, you can save a lot more water than you can with a big water trough.

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collecting rainwater

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20 thoughts on “Collecting Rainwater on the Homestead”

  1. Great information, however, I think it should be mentioned about roof type. Asphalt shingle style roof I wouldn’t use for animal water. It may seem obvious but not necessarily to someone new 😉

    Reply
    • Hello everyone, we have a large hay barn and part of the roof from which the water runs off is corrugated asbestos. Is it a stupid question ask if this water can be used for animals and even to water veggie crops? I’d really appreciate your thoughts. Thanks, diolch (from Wales UK)
      Jude

      Reply
      • You definitely should not use the water for anything because asbestos is a health hazard to humans and animals.

        Reply
  2. How do you keep the water fresh so it doesn’t grow bacteria. I usually clean out my bowls daily and put fresh water in. I too have a well with hard water. My wether developed Urinary Calculi perhaps the hard water contribututed to this. I would like to switch over to rainwater cause I know it would be so much better for them. But, I am worried about the water getting nasty setting in a barrel for weeks at a time.

    Reply
    • That’s never been a problem. As far as I know, the only thing that grows in our rain barrels is a little algae, which has never been a problem. The water isn’t really sitting in the barrel for any length of time as we are constantly using it, and rain is refilling it or over-filling it.

      Reply
  3. I was told not to use rain water from a galvanized metal roof, is this true? My goats will prefer rainwater even if there is dirt in it over their drinking water which I give clean twice a day.

    Reply
    • Theoretically there could be zinc in the rainwater that comes off a galvanized roof, but I’ve read about lots of people with galvanized roofs using the water and have heard no issues. One thing I read said that high levels of zinc can act like an herbicide, so if the rainwater isn’t killing the grass and plants where it washes off the roof, then it’s probably not too high. We have galvanized roofs on our 3-sided shelters and often put a water trough under it to catch runoff and have not noticed any issues. Our barns have painted metal roofs.

      Reply
  4. What do you do in the winter time for water for your goats? I have just restored a barn, plan to put gutters and a rain catchment system on both sides, but am wondering about my well water when it gets cold again. (We live in Michigan). We dug a well, have high iron and sulfur levels in the water, and I am trying to find a simple filtering system for winter time use.
    Thanks! Good article!

    Reply
    • There is nothing simple that gets rid of iron and sulfur. We tried so many different things and finally bought a chlorine injection system that cost a couple thousand dollars. A huge carbon filter then filters out the chlorine.

      Reply
  5. We have used a rain barrel for our goats for 4 years now. Perhaps we didn’t construct it properly because the output pipe is on the lower side of the barrel instead of the bottom. We can never drain it completely. We now have what look like worms, but research shows they may be midge larvae reproducing in the bottom of the barrel. I am hesitant to let my goats drink the rain water now. However, our well water is very high in iron and I’m having copper deficiency symptoms. What would you suggest be our first steps? I’ve read your article on capper deficiency in goats. Thank you for all the wonderful information!

    Reply
    • The worms in the water are not goat worms, so I wouldn’t worry about them. Most goat worms are invisible to the naked eye, and they an only survive inside of a goat or on pasture if it rains often enough so that they don’t dehydrate. For there to be goat worms in the water, the goats would have to poop in the water, which sounds impossible in this scenario. If the worms creep you out, maybe try using a wire kitchen colander to filter them out?

      Reply
  6. What about the normal “stuff” found on a Gs life leaves, dust and especially bird droppings. Are those not to be considered a health issue with goats or other animals? I had originally planned all roofs with the idea of collecting the rain water but those concerns have kept me from actually using that water.

    Reply
    • This has never been a problem for us, but I almost never see a bird on the roof. If we lived near the ocean and had 50 seagulls sitting on the roof and pooping, I wouldn’t do it. And you will have leaves and dust in your water, even if it is not rain water.

      Reply
  7. My question has always been, is it a problem if you can’t clean out your rain barrel either because it is too big or really hard to clean. I just worry about algal growth, mould, what-have-ya, building up inside. Is this something to be concerned about? Should you flush the contents of the barrel on a regular basis?
    Thank you

    Reply
    • We have never cleaned our rain barrels. As far as I know, the only thing they have growing is algae, which is not a problem. We clean out troughs because they wind up with a lot of leaves in them, but that has nothing to do with it being rain water because the wind blows leaves into an open trough.

      Reply
  8. Suggestions how to prevent mosquito breeding grounds from forming? (That is probably what the “worms” mentioned above are.) Here in Michigan it is either mosquito season or frozen…

    Reply
    • That’s a good question. I don’t know why we don’t have a problem with mosquitoes in our water troughs. If you do, then rain barrels would be the best option for you because they can’t get in there. It is a closed system.

      Reply

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