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Manifold Musings on Moisture

Posted 8/15/2017 4:31pm by Kinley Coulter.

     After 17 years of adventures on the farm, we are, at long last, rejoicing in our first cool, wet July and August. Pastures and hayfields are growing explosively and our barns are full of hay, already. The dog days of summer are usually a brown, crispy, roasting, depressing time for man and beast… this year has been blessedly different.

     Thinking about rain and water blessings and challenges, as well as a question I received in an email, motivated me to write a little bit about water and how essential it is at our farm. In a pasture based farm like ours, getting water to any and all animal groups spread out across 90 acres here at home, 50 acres where we graze our beef and 80 acres where our sheep and dairy heifers graze requires a lot of infrastructure. We are still burying water lines to carry water to the far reaches of all of these pastures. This year alone we buried 3,000 feet of black 1” plastic pipe to a depth of 30 inches. At this depth, the bitter cold of winter is powerless to freeze our precious water supply to the animals.  In the photo above, Jason is backfilling the trench after the pipe is laid.

     We make use of 'freeze proof hydrants', like this shiny new one the boys just installed, to get the water above ground and into water troughs. When we shut off these hydrants, they drain themselves empty to keep from freezing. Overall, we have buried almost 3 miles of water line in our pastures. We finally broke down and bought a trencher attachment for our skid loader, which gouges out a 6” trench as deep as we need… up to 48”. Surface water lines are highly vulnerable to being damaged by farm equipment and animals, not to mention exposing us to bone-chilling frozen pipe repairs in bitter cold weather.  While the animals drink less in the winter, they still need fresh water every day.

     Significantly, during the summer the animals are much happier drinking cool, 55 degree water from underground pipes... compared to yucky, 110 degree bath water out of a long surface hose… animals appreciate many of the same things people do.

     One major problem we face, especially with cattle, is ‘crowd drinking.’ When Rebecca was homeschooling our 3 boys… if one decided to use the restroom, you can imagine what the other two immediately (desperately) needed to do. When it’s 95 degrees and one cow decides she needs 10 gallons of nice cool water… no problem. When the herd sees one animal ambling off towards the water trough… all of a sudden all 40 cows are instantly about to drop over dead from their life-threatening thirst. So, ‘crowd drinking’ is set off as the whole herd starts at a slow, meandering walk to the distant water trough. It only takes one cow to decide she would be glad to be first at the trough… (after all, who wants the other cows’ slobber in your nice clean water?) she starts trotting. Suddenly, 50,000 pounds of bovines are mooing, bawling, thundering and hurtling at warp speed towards the pathetic, trembling, 150 gallon plastic water trough. The first 15 cows get their 10 gallon drink. The next several get theirs as the beleaguered hydrant struggles to refill the trough. Then the remaining 22 incite an angry riot to be the next in line to drink. You would be impressed to see how effectively cows can climb on top of each other to get to a water trough before they succumb to (perceived) deadly dehydration. At some point, without fail, the doomed trough is upended, trampled and crushed and the water supply creates an extensive, sloppy mud puddle in the midst of the pandemonium. An experienced farmer can identify the bawling of cows in a water dispute from a mile away. Sigh….. ‘crowd drinking’ is highly annoying. We have learned, the hard way, that the closer we can have the trough to where the animals are grazing, the less of an issue ‘crowd drinking’ becomes. So, you see why we want to have buried water lines available in all of our far-flung pastures. 

     We have 5 wells on our 3 farms, supplying precious, life giving water to our animals. Actually 6, if you count the 500 foot deep 6” hole we drilled, and finally abandoned, after $4,000 worth of drilling produced nothing but dry dust out of the hole. It is baffling to me that we could move the drilling rig 100 feet to the south-east and hit water… go figure! The rest of our wells are all prolific… plenty of water for animals and the farmer’s family. But, sadly, not enough to do any irrigation… leaving us to the vagaries of natural rainfall. So, the next time you bend over at a water fountain for a refreshing drink, look around you and imagine having to elbow your way through dozens of people to get to the water… Thankfully, this is not a common occurrence… neither at the water fountain nor at the water trough.