Among the noise of continuous footsteps and dialogue at the KMOT Ag Expo Wednesday, the sound of bubbling water echoed throughout the lower concourse of the All Seasons Arena in a black trough tucked away in the corner.
The bubbling sound is not knew to Ken Kelln, president of Kelln Solar. An engineer by trade, Kelln has been manufacturing winter watering systems for use in livestock operations for the last 28 years.
"Every producer has problems with freeze-out of water troughs, especially those who water cattle in pasture, so we needed a system to work efficiently in the winter," Kelln said.
What developed was a watering system comprised of a pump, solar panels or small wind turbine, motion detector and a backup power battery box. The system starts with an 18-foot about 7 feet below the frost line vertical hole about 2 feet wide for the placement of the casing, which is connected at one end to a dugout and the other end to the trough. The pump, which brings the water up the casing into the trough, is powered by two or more large, shatter-proof solar panels. The system is put into action when the motion detector senses livestock approaching, triggering the pump and filling the trough. Even though the solar panels operate in cloudy winter weather, Kelln said the company created a backup plan, consisting of six days-worth of batteries, to ensure system efficiency.
Although this system has been around for over 10 years, "When we first got started, we couldn't give solar panels away, but now with rising (input) costs, the 'green movement' and time demands, people are very interested," Kelln said. As the shift to alternative energy use has strengthened, so have company sales. Kelln said there are now 2,500 winter watering systems in operation throughout the United States and Canada. Even though systems can cost ranchers thousands of dollars depending on the number of animals Kelln said the benefits far outweigh the costs.
"Installation is the main difficulty because you have to have the casing at the right elevation, but the system uses wind and solar power to charge the pump, saving them money, and the water is there only when the cattle are drinking, so there's no worry about it freezing," he said, adding that the system can be used for cattle, sheep, buffalo and horses.
With its headquarters in Regina, Sask., "If it works in Canada, it will surely work anywhere in the U.S.," Kelln said, "and ranchers here (in North Dakota) are starting to see that."