Let the sun water the cattle
A lifetime of ranching in an area populated with irrigation wells
has given Stirling Spencer an intricate knowledge of the beef industry and the pumps that water his cow herds in the dry New Mexico desert.
Spencer’s interests and a chemical engineering degree in fluid dynamics from New Mexico State University have helped him design and create a solar-powered system for each of his ranch wells, saving time, energy and money over systems operated by traditional windmills.
Spencer operates 45,000 acres near Carrizozo, in central New Mexico, with an additional 20,000 acres rented from a neighbor. Windmills are the typical means of watering livestock due to a lack of power lines in the open desert, but windmills have disadvantages, namely a decline in windmill repairmen and a lack of wind during the New Mexico summer. Solar power seemed like a more viable option for Spencer.
• Rancher’s cattle and home water systems run on solar pumps.
• Sun-powered pumps are easier to deal with than windmills.
• Renewable energy work creates second income for rancher.
“It was easier to put in solar pumps than windmills. We usually need water in the summer, and that’s when the wind doesn’t blow, so it sounded like a perfect fit,” he says.
Spencer installed standard 180-watt solar panels at each of his 10 wells, which also serve as drinking water sources for his home. Pumping rates range from 2 to 8 gallons per minute.
Just in case
But sunlight is eventually lacking at some point during the year, so he also uses 1,000-watt backup wind turbines to supplement the solar panels, as needed. “If the wind is blowing at night, or if it’s cloudy, it can help pick up a couple of extra gallons for the cattle,” he says.
The renewable energy Spencer found through wind and solar has eased ranch labor, and less maintenance affords him a chance to spend more time on his cattle.
“In our case, without having power lines available, renewable energy systems today are more cost-effective and simpler to maintain than windmills and other systems,” he says. “The panels have reduced the cost of operation, and the cost of pumping has gotten easier.”
It all comes easy to Spencer, who has spent a lifetime in engineering and water pumping, even before he began his own ranch operations. “I enjoy working with pumping systems and water, and I’ve spent a lot of my career in that,” he says. “What it all comes down to is growing up in the ranching industry. We know how to integrate it into ranching operations, and how to fabricate some of the solar equipment.”
The Carrizozo USDA service center eventually took notice of Spencer, and saw a great opportunity to not only educate USDA service agents on renewable energy, but also to educate area cattle producers on the technology. It offers producers an opportunity to take advantage of renewable pumping systems, but also educates service agents to help those producers bring their projects to realization. Spencer usually speaks at one to two workshops and seminars annually.
“I think renewable energy is a value to the cattle industry, and there is a recreational value for homes,” he says. “It is not applicable everywhere, but once a person understands how it works, it can save quite a lot of energy and quite a lot of money.”
Brazil writes from Carnegie, Okla.
This article published in the March, 2012 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.