Controlling Algae in Livestock Water Tanks

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Livestock producers who water their animals in water tanks often battle with algae buildup during the summer months. Algae growth is just a nuisance and some algae are toxic. So what can producers do?

First, it’s a good idea to clean the tanks periodically. It is often tough to empty them for cleaning, so some forethought into allowing them to run dry is often the first step. Some tanks have built in drains and can be emptied in this fashion. If no drain is present, simply turning the water off and allowing the stock to drink the tank dry is often easier than turning the tank over and dumping the water. A stiff brush with a long handle will ease the task of cleaning the tank and is a real time and back saver. Scrub the sides and bottom and rinse thoroughly to reduce algae buildup, and impede its development.

Producers can utilize chemical products to kill algae. There many commercial products designed and formulated to kill, or reduce algal growth in both tanks and ponds. Copper sulfate is one such product and can be used in water tanks. There are formulations on the market that are effective for this purpose. You can buy copper sulfate and mix your own as well, however, care must be given to achieve the correct parts per million in a particular water tank volume. There are guidelines available and Cooperative Extension can provide more information on this process. Copper sulfate is highly corrosive, so exposing metal tanks or pipes to this mixture can shorten the life of both pipes and tanks so keep exposure to a minimum. Using copper sulfate to treat algae growth can be harmful to sheep as they are not tolerant of high copper levels, so use caution with sheep.

Common, unscented household bleach also works as an algaecide. By adding 2-3oz. of bleach per 50 gallons of water, producers can reduce algae problems in livestock watering tanks. Done properly, both of these treatments are safe for livestock, and animals need not be withdrawn, however, keep in mind these treatments are probably more effective if given time to maintain concentration for a few minutes.

With a few minutes devoted each week to stock tank maintenance, producers can provide their animals a clean source of water free of algal growth, and who knows, it could also boost livestock performance.