PHOTO: Shutterstock
Lisa Munniksma
May 13, 2019

That fuzzy green growth in your livestock water tank is ugly, right? The problem with algae in water tanks goes beyond looks. Algae changes the quality of water and can dissuade livestock from drinking. Some algae can make livestock sick if they drink too much. It’s not difficult to keep algae out of your water tanks; it just requires that you pay attention.

Here are seven methods you can use to stop algae growth this spring and summer.


1. Add a Sulfate

Copper sulfate and zinc sulfate have served as algae prevention for years by livestock producers. With proper use, these should be safe for livestock, except sheep. (Too much copper is toxic to sheep.) Follow veterinarian or extension instructions on a formulation, or purchase one ready-made.

2. Add Barley Straw

Researchers in Great Britain are studying this tactic, and you can find barley-straw products on farm-store shelves in the United States. It’s not yet known how barley straw impedes algae growth, but it does. As barley straw decomposes, it deoxygenates the water, so do your own research about how much to add to your tanks. Be sure the straw you get hasn’t been treated with chemicals, or try one of the commercial barley-straw products.

3. Add a Small Amount of Bleach

A small amount of bleach added to a water tank shouldn’t affect the water’s taste so much that livestock won’t want to drink it, but it will affect algae’s ability to thrive. Try 2 to 3 ounces of bleach per 50 gallons of water, per the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

4. Employ Fish Friends

This method is the most fun, because who doesn’t want goldfish in the water tank? The University of Missouri Extension recommends four to six goldfish per 100 gallons of water. To survive, the fish need water that is 60 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, so they might do better in a constant-fill tank as opposed to a tank that gets emptied and refilled often. The fish do poop in the tank, so the tank requires cleaning regularly anyway.

5. Keep Animals Out of the Tank

Another required ingredient for algae growth is organic matter. Colorado State University’s Golden Plains Area Extension points out that organic matter comes from livestock slobbering, urinating and defecating in a tank. Keeping these farmscape staples out of a water tank is impossible. You can, however, limit them by building fencing or rails low enough that your animals can’t slip between them and the tank but high enough that the animals can drink comfortably.

6. Move the Tank to the Shade

Algae requires sunlight to grow, so if you can take away the sun, you’ve solved part of your problem. If the shade you use is a tree canopy, you might be introducing a new problem—bird droppings—but the shady side of a structure or even a separate roof structure are good options. Something as simple as shade cloth suspended above the tank could help, too.

7. Scrub Regularly

Roll up your sleeves, grab a stiff-bristled brush and keep your water tanks clean with some manual labor. You might have to do this once a week, more or less, depending on the algae growth you experience. Let your animals drink down the level of water in the tank so you don’t have to waste so much water when you dump, rinse and refill.

This story originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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