The thaw has arrived, and despite the half inch of ice we didn’t have too bad of time. This post will be of no use to folks who live in a colder climate. I assume all you cold winter people have all your water bugs worked out and your ducks in a row. Here in our maritime climate we don’t usually experience much more than a week of freezing now and then during our wet winters. So it’s pretty easy to let your guard down and work yourself into too many water chores. Those four, one hundred foot hoses come in pretty handy as long as it isn’t freezing, when they freeze you’re as good as out of water. This post may be of more use to folks looking for land, or adding animals to an existing homestead. Water availability is pretty important.
There are no foolproof ways to keep water flowing all the time when it freezes, but you can certainly make life easier in a number of ways. I don’t know about your place, but extra cold weather here means more chores instantly, more feed to up caloric intake so the stock stays warm, and more bedding to keep animals dry. Adding the chore of packing heavy water just makes life pretty dreary.
One way to keep water from freezing is to use tank heaters, heated hose, or electric hose tape. All good as long as you have power. Usually here a winter storm means a loss of power sometime during the duration of the storm, then you need a generator to keep the power on, and you also need fuel for the generator. All complications when all you simply want is water for your stock. I like electricity as much as the next guy, but it’s not a very resilient way to live. So we try not to depend on it too much and treat it more like a luxury.
I’m lucky in some regards, we have kept our gravity water systems that have been in place here since the beginning of this homestead…say about 130 years give or take. At that time everyone had gravity water, and gradually modernity and convenience has taken over and those simple ways went by the wayside. Our municipal water available in this “town” is also gravity, so geographic luck maybe? No matter, this is where I live and have to adapt. Blending old and new isn’t always the easiest thing to do. We’re not starting out with bare ground and building a system that we think is best, we have to fit in with what my ancestors thought was best at the time. That can be confounding at times, sometimes what works doesn’t have to be reinvented, it just is.
We do pump water since our farm land is such that our flat ground is at the highest point, and the water is located at the lowest point. The key here is that we use water power to pump the water using a hydraulic ram. The ram is pretty simple with just a few moving parts. Yearly maintenance may mean a new leather gasket. Otherwise the system is pretty foolproof. The ram pumps the spring water to a holding tank at the highest point on the farm, from there the water gravities to the house, barns, and greenhouses which are all sited below the highest point. I can take no credit for this system other than not ripping it out and going all modern. It’s a low pressure system so we rely on volume by way of a larger delivery pipe to give the illusion of pressure. It’s plenty, no worries about pressure.
To drought proof our farm somewhat we have hooked up to the municipal system also, being a gravity system it’s there if we need it, and can be a lifesaver if something fails on our ram system. To avoid cross contamination it is designed as a separate system. Our untreated water cannot mix with the treated “city” water, and we have to have a yearly backflow test due to having livestock and greenhouses.
My point of explaining all this is that to bring home the idea of having ample water that can be delivered in the simplest form possible. Winter chores are hard enough, the less worries you have the better. Build resilience into your systems, think of, and use the grid as a backup instead of the end all. Dual systems work really well, our thermosiphon hot water heating is a perfect example, our hot water system has two tanks, one electric and one heated from the wood furnace. All the water is preheated when we have a fire during the better part of the year, and when it’s too hot to build a fire the electric takes on the full job. It makes no sense to build a fire in the summer just to heat water, and it makes no sense not to take advantage of the electricity that is already at my doorstep. I can be miserable or comfortable. It’s easy to choose.
A newish addition to our water lineup is frost-free hydrants placed strategically at the barns and greenhouses. I can pack a gallon of water to the hens each day pretty easily, but watering 22 head of cattle by hand is a nightmare. So by investing a few hundred dollars in hydrants we have saved a ton in aggravation. The farthest run for a hose is 150 feet, which is doable as far as draining the hoses before they freeze up goes. The goal here is to carry as little water as necessary, after milk, water is about the heaviest and most awkward thing here to move.
Watering cows is the biggest chore but knowing that cows don’t have to have water on demand is helpful. When we free-ranged our cattle, they watered themselves at springs in the canyons. Once a day in the winter. We would feed out the hay and in a few hours, you would see all the cows trailing, single file to the water holes. With that in mind I can schedule my watering to fit in with feeding, warmest part of the day, and the cows needs without worrying too much if they are going to have water 24/7. Cows like to eat to rumen fill and then add water. I just have to use this knowledge to my advantage. These folks cut holes in the ice once a day in frigid Alberta for 300 head. Once a day watering, it can work. The exception to this would be for producing dairy cows, milk is mostly water so take this once a day watering advice with a grain of salt. My goal is always fresh water at least once a day or more if the situation allows.
For our laying hens, I usually cave and pack them water. Eggs contain a lot of water also, so no or low water translates to less eggs. The bright side is that a gallon a day for 18 birds can hold them, and if it’s really cold, I just water them several times a day. When we had our pastured commercial size flock, we drained their water system each night and restarted the flow each morning.
Just a few ideas to toss around when designing, or redesigning your livestock water systems:
♥ Plan seasonality into your water system by carrying less high production animals during the cold months. Here pigs and meat chickens are done before the cold sets in. Dairy cows may be the exception, but planning in spring calving helps on the water end too, a dry cow requires somewhat less water than a producing milk cow.
♥ To keep your water system potable make sure you use vacuum breakers or some kind of backflow prevention from your stock tanks which can be contaminated with manure from time to time.
♥ Place watering systems, troughs etc., on south facing parts of your housing. Most days, our chicken water system thaws by mid-morning in their hoophouse.
♥ Frost-free hydrants strategically placed can be a lifesaver. Make sure to fence them out of livestock areas though to avoid animals rubbing on them. Make sure to unhook hoses from your hydrant when it gets cold, if the hose is still attached and freezes your hydrant may too depending on how cold it gets.
♥ Have several different lengths of hose available. The less hose, the less time spent draining hoses. Have a plan for draining your hoses. Our ground at the barn is basically flat, so I use a tree limb or the hay elevator for a high place to fish the hose through to drain it. My husband is always “talking” about rigging up a pulley, but I end up draining the hoses so that little tidbit is likely to remain just an idea.
♥ Roof gutters to a water trough are a good idea as long as you make sure you dismantle the gutter before freezing so you don’t make a potential ice hazard in your barnyard. Cattle can slip easily, splay and break their pelvis. Despite our high rainfall location, I’m not much of a fan of gutter to trough applications unless you have a good way to divert the extra runoff away from the barn. Others may find they work well in their situation.
♥ Tapered water troughs are nice too in the freezing weather. We’ve used these Rubbermaid troughs for quite awhile and they are virtually indestructible. When shopping at the local feed store leave the galvanized straight troughs there for display, they don’t last and if they freeze with water in them, the seams usually burst. A splitting maul works good for busting ice too, much easier than an axe. Once you break the ice you can remove the pieces.
♥ If you have to hand water small stock, the flexible rubber feed tubs with tapered sides make good waterers too. If they freeze you can turn them over and remove the ice fairly easily.
♥ Have a plan B, or C and D too, it may be that you have to leave your water running enough to keep a trough full just for the duration of a cold spell. Plan B here usually means bringing animals closer to a more convenient water source. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it may only be a week of frigid temperatures, better to run up your water bill than injure yourself carrying water. Muscle strain, or falls are real hazards and often make the cold weather harder to bear.
♥ Finally, plan your system as a whole making use of natural energy when possible. Our system relies on gravity to work, which frees our minds up for more important tasks when we have freezing weather. If you rely on electricity for your pump, or heaters, make sure you have fuel for your generator and that your generator does indeed work.
I know there are no earth-shattering ideas in this blog post, and for seasoned farm folks a lot of this is rote and can be done in the dark. But I think lots of folks who have just recently moved back to the land have no idea. It’s pretty easy to stock up on animals during the good weather, but keeping them watered when it freezes once in a blue moon is pretty difficult.
This picture is the story of my life let me tell you – I spend a part of each day looking at cows asses. The thaw has arrived and all the work that goes with that. We didn’t have too much snow, but it was the half-inch of ice that brought some grief. Mostly in the way of broken limbs on trees (none on us – thanks Yaktrax!) and maybe some Populus buds for salve.
Trying to find some time to write a coherent post about winter water, but not finding the words with all that outside work calling me. So I’ll leave you with a frugal cooking tip. We’re having beef stew tonight, with beef of course, and home canned tomatoes, green beans, summer squash, dehydrated chanterelles, onions and garlic from dry storage and carrots, rutabagas and parsnips from the garden “root cellar.” Even though we have a freezer full of meats, that don’t come easy. There’s a lot of work involved getting that beef in my freezer. So I stretch it, not for some idea of a meatless meal or day of the week, but because there is a whole lot of living involved in that little package of stew meat I’m stretching today. My family’s living, the steer’s living, and the farm’s living. Whole foods at their best. Grown and consumed where they started. It’s pretty special. Maybe I am stretching the memories of all that, or maybe not.
It’s pretty simple really and a real budget saver. I simply brown the meat as you do for many dishes, and I reserve half for the next day’s stew. No one misses it, out of sight, out of mind. And you know how it goes, a lot of the meat gets fished out the first serving leaving scant portions for the next day.
Winter chores tend to be much harder than summer chores and it’s pretty easy to paint yourself into a corner chore-wise when you only use summer time chores as a guideline. In the summer, pasture is easy and the water never freezes. Here we try to find the appropriate scale to for determining the scale of what we want to do by hand or machine. Making room for both methods can ease the chore pain in many areas. We need to face the fact that we are in the materials handling business. We try to handle things the least amount of times possible, or break a big job into smaller jobs. Hay and feed are things that need handling whether you produce it yourself or buy it. Making a plan for when the chores are the hardest and then doing the chores that way makes chore time a habit, and keeps you from having a surprise breakdown in the chore chain. This weekend’s ice storm is a perfect example. Snow and ice just slow you down and can make a daily chore a dangerous one. Taking unnecessary steps just increases your chances of injuring yourself. Unnecessary chores also set you up in the long run for injuries due to wear and tear on the body, and mental fatigue.
A person can easily pack hay for one cow as I do for Jane each day. But feeding the beef herd would take me all day unless I haul feed to them in a vehicle or feed them at the barn where the hay is stored and I can just place the hay in front of them. In another chore note, Jane the milk cow is kept separate from the beef cows. By doing that, she is always close by, and ready to be milked. All I have to do is open the gate and she walks to her milking area.
With cows, one bale goes in the front and you haul a bale’s worth of material out the back. The scale stays the same on this end of business too, I can easily haul a wheelbarrow load of Jane’s night soil out of the barn each day.
But hauling out the deep bedding from a small herd of cows by hand is just too much.
Each year we rent or barter machine usage to clean out the deep bedding. Likewise the deep bedding shed is open on each end for easy machine clean out. We learned that lesson the hard way when we rebuilt this barn in the photo below in its predecessor’s likeness.
It’s a pretty barn, but deep bedding with end walls is crazy talk. Even if we did let the bedding build up in here and used machinery to clean up, we’re still committed to quite a bit of handwork to get the material away from the walls. Let alone letting the bedding buildup inviting damage to the wood siding. This barn design invites handwork, so with that in mind we use it that way. One cow, calf and horse use this barn. We store enough hay in this barn each summer to feed them, planning ahead during the summer for what we think we’ll need to feed out during the winter. Likewise, the hay barn with feeding shed attachment stores the bulk of the hay harvest for winter use.
Points to remember:
♥ Think ahead for feed storage. Try to minimize handling as much as possible. With hay we always try to throw down if possible. Let the bale’s weight do the work for you. Minimize lifting and carrying as much as possible.
♥ Match your feed supplies to your capabilities and animals. We make and feed small square bales finding them easiest to handle for young and old. A child can feed the cows for you if all they need is a pocket knife. If you commit yourself to large round bales, you commit yourself to a large piece of equipment and only adults being capable of feeding. Our daughter isn’t a child anymore, but she could feed and bed twenty-five head of cattle with our barn setup without any tools but a pocketknife and pitchfork. Good to know in case adults get injured in some way.
♥ Plan for dry storage of bedding supplies too if you have to keep your animals in during the winter. Dry carbon captures more of the manure and urine and keeps the animals comfortable. Bedding storage is our weak point…still working on that one.
♥ A bale of hay is light and easy to move compared to a wheelbarrow load of manure. It may be that feeding your stock outside and letting the cows distribute the manure and seeds is the way to go. Just don’t hurt yourself being a hero – one or two animals eating outside is much easier on the body than feeding ten. Pace yourself and use equipment if appropriate.
That takes care of feeding, if we still have power tomorrow I’ll write about our watering setups for all the stock.
dislike chasing cows. So much so that if we need to chase a cow, we stop. Just stop and walk away. This morning was the scheduled cow move. The plan was for Hubby to go in late to work so he could stop traffic for us as we moved the cows across the road. We’ve found out the hard way that it doesn’t pay to ask friends to help. Most are too timid to stand in the road and stop traffic. They slow down the traffic, but they have never stopped it. Any of the three of us will STOP traffic. Sorry if you don’t like it, turn around and go the other way, or wait. I’m kind of a hard ass like that.
To alleviate our stress and therefore the stress on the cattle, we picking moving time carefully. The lowest traffic time we can find. We have to move our cows across the road to the feeding shed barn right at a blind corner. It actually only takes about 30 seconds for them to walk across the road (it seems like an hour to me), that is, if there are no characters that just can’t seem to follow the herd.
If you have cows you know the characters in your herd. Usually the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree either. I have one high headed first calf heifer, that has thoroughly trained her calf the ways of the wild cow. This is where culling comes in. You pay attention for every day of their lives, making a mental note in either the pro or con column. Spot, the high-headed mama, has several marks in the con column, and only her youth in the pro column. She added one more tally mark this morning.
To ready ourselves for a short move, we spent some time yesterday adding straw to the twelve inches of shavings already in the shed, filled the feeder with hay bales, cutting and removing the twine. After the barn was readied, we made a makeshift lane with some electric fencing just to steer the cows to the shed once they crossed the road and came in the driveway. On the pasture side, I put in some rebar posts and left a roll of fencing wire nearby to make a makeshift corral once I moved the cows into the corner where we open up the permanent fence and let them spill out onto the road.
This morning all we had to do was turn off the fence and call the cows to the corner, position a few rigs with flashers near the curves, open up the fence and let ‘er rip. Until, Mrs. High Head decided something was up. She turned to head back to the field, and her calf sensed her anxiety. At this point they hadn’t sensed my anxiety. Yet. Meanwhile all the other cows and calves nonchalantly headed out the hole in the fence, across the road and up the driveway to the barn and awaiting feeder full of hay. The cows going in the opposite direction got the errant cow’s attention and she shot through the gap like nobody’s business. Calf? Not on the same page at all. The standard rule in cowdom is that you can’t see the hole in the fence that you just escaped out of, or the one your human wants you to go through. The second rule of cowdom is that you make a new hole of your choosing that is usually going to take you far away from the mad two-legged.
Lots of yelling ensued, because of the wind, not because yelling helps the situation. Ruthless was with the 19 good cows, Hangdog was on the road, and I was in the field where the calf just made new hole in the fence to do what? I have no idea. I was already making culling tallies in my head and thinking to myself, okay it’s your funeral literally.
We tried first to get her rounded up and back to the right hole in the fence, meanwhile mama was bawling her head off in between stuffing her face with hay. The first attempt didn’t go well, she got to the corner saw the line of demarcation of the snow in the shade and with her tail up took off at a dead run. In cow speak tail up means book the hell out there. Sigh. Okay, time to regroup. Hangdog suggested all three of us bring her back to the corner and apply a little more pressure. By this time she was getting nervous, mama had settled down to eat and wasn’t calling her, three humans were getting too close, and this was not good. We got her to the corner and we had a repeat of the first and second time. We let her go.
None of this would be a big deal except the road between the barn and pasture. Cattle are herd bound animals and a nursing calf and cow can’t be separated too long without the fences going down. Of course, it’s usually after dark too when they finally decide no fence can hold them and they get out. So we had a real problem. More confabbing got us to the idea of cutting the cow out of the herd and put her back with her calf. She’s not that tame, but we could drive her if we could separate her from the cows. I went in with a stick and starting pushing my way through the cows and got her and her mom out and away from the other cows. Somewhere in all the confusion Ruthless got mixed up about who was who and let Gramma cow out and cut off the High Headed daughter. So more cow wrangling and then finally we got the right one out and with lots of arm waving we got her back across the road and into the same pasture with her calf. Albeit on the wrong side of the road, at least this way we could feed her over there, she would be with her calf, and we could take some time to figure out just how to get them both back across the road without incident. Eighteen in the hand, and two in the bush now.
All this futzing around only took up about fifteen minutes, but it sure is exasperating when you know it can be as smooth as silk most of the time. We decided to just cool off, and Hangdog could go to work. The cow was out in the woods looking for the bawling calf, so the urgency was gone. We started methodically taking down the lane and putting the permanent fence back in some order when the cow and calf showed up together and looking a little eager to go. This is truly where the tincture of time works the best. We forgot about chasing the cows, and they decided they needed to be with the others. By this time though, we had lost our traffic control officer, so we would have to wing it, or worry all night about them getting out. We took down the fence and backed off – mama and baby filed through and hesitantly crossed the road and into the barn driveway. Phew, a collective sigh of relief.
Now we have 20 in the hand. Or actually in the barn, let the deep bedding begin!
With another cold snap in forecast – yeah, I know all you cold climate folks, but it will be cold for here – I decided to harvest the last two cabbages that weren’t already on their way to becoming fertilizer. Both these varieties have always performed well with no fuss of covering or babying. Planted in July, we have been steadily eating our way through seventy-two heads of cabbage since fall. Quite a few became kraut, but the rest have found their way into many salads and savory dishes through the winter.
At this stage of the game in the life of a cabbage head that has been outside all winter, I doubt these heads would make it through unscathed this week with lows predicted in the teen’s for Portland. We can safely subtract 10 degrees to arrive at our approximate temperature. It may not get that cold, but just to hedge our bets, I harvested the last of the cabbage.
Now onto preparing the feeding shed for the cows. Time to put them in. Stay warm!