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I am currently storing rain water in a 60L blue barrel that is being used to feed chickens, ducks and rabbits.

I have never run dry yet, although I have come close, but there is a steady supply.

What should I be doing to ensure this water is suitable for animal consumption or is the regular flow sufficient (emptying, collecting) to keep the water quality reasonable.

What are some things I should look out for?

  • Build up of something
  • Should I empty / flush the barrel within a certain period
  • Do I need treat the water with anything
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    Are you filtering the water (even through a coarse filter) before it goes into the barrel? Does the barrel have a cover? Is it opaque? Are you collecting off a roof -- what kind? – bstpierre Jan 30 '13 at 13:30
  • @bstpierre - I am currently not filtering. The downpipe comes off a balcony covering which is opaque plastic which is quite clean (no build-up). The barrel is sealed. – going Jan 30 '13 at 21:38
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As with anything, what you really want to do is a basic risk assessment first. What are you worried about? What can you do about it?

Initial thoughts of things to worry about:

  1. Fecal-oral pathogens (salmonella, fecal choliforms, etc). Birds may poop where the rain falls and that poses some concerns. Obviously the birds aren't dropping like flies but it may impact health impacts elsewhere. What do you define as "reasonable" there?

  2. Chemical residues from the barrel and elsewhere. These are probably reasonable but is all the water being consumed by animals? Do your animals consume only this water? Is there other water that they consume?

The second step is to determine what your definition of "reasonable water quality" is. What is the acceptable risk in these areas? If you want to be super-cautious you could try to treat the water but these generally pose sustainability issues themselves. However if it were me, and it is just for animal (and maybe emergency human) consumption, as well as irrigation I would probably simply declare these risks to be acceptable and figure that sufficient water flow and reasonable attempts to keep collection area reasonably free of bird poop would be sufficient.

  • What about growing duckweed in there? I heard that it helps purify water. – Earthliŋ Feb 8 '13 at 23:12
  • If you have the light in there to grow duckweed, I suspect you have enough UV light not to worry about pathogens so much.... – Chris Travers Feb 9 '13 at 2:16
  • That's downright dangerous suspicion. – OCDtech Feb 20 '13 at 22:33
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If you install a basic filter (gravel, mesh, coarse sand, mesh) before the reservoir, close the system to reduce insect access, and make the barrels completely opaque that water should be safe for your livestock, well...forever.

If there is no sunlight, and little to no organic matter in the water, it will be safe for you to drink! At least those measures have proved adequate for missionaries and ranchers all over the world for the centuries.

  • Keep in mind that uv light can be used to reduce pathogens, so if you have barrel with lots of UV access (think transparent plastic), you probably get at least partial water treatment too. In fact in some countries, water is treated by putting it in old water bottles and setting it in the sun for a while. – Chris Travers Feb 9 '13 at 2:19
  • What your referring to Chris is called the SODIS method. While true, naturally incident UV can be used to treat water, such treatment isn't suitable in the circumstances the OP described. – OCDtech Feb 20 '13 at 22:30

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