Local Agriculture

Musings from the midden and other worthy places: winter water dilemma.

We built a new small barn last year and as we did I was not at all clear how water would be supplied for the animals all year. Initially, the problem of supply was a concern, but I did not think finding a source would be impossible as I had operated a nose pump from a shallow cistern below the barn’s new location. As the barn is located at the base of a glacial deposit, water tends to be plentiful. After the excavations for the barn had taken place I instructed a hole should be dug for a well and 15 feet down a small natural stream was found. There was plenty of water. Overnight the hole dug by a backhoe filled to within about seven feet of the surface and it stayed that way for a few weeks. Once the barn was finished a 14 foot long by 16 inch diameter pipe with half inch holes in the bottom seven feet was put in the ground and surrounded by gravel. A 1½ inch water line connected the well to the edge of the concrete floor of the barn about 30 feet from the well. The rise from the water level in the well to the floor of the barn was about ten feet. We connected the summer nose pump and presto the cows had water. So far so good.

When we started the project winter water was my real concern. How to stop the water from freezing as I did not want to bucket water all winter. Installing electricity of any kind was going to be too costly. So too was frost free equipment. I really needed to find a low technology solution for a summer nose pump.

The barn is 40 feet wide including a ten foot overhang on both sides. The water line rises up to the edge of the 20 foot wide concrete floor where the barn’s inner wall is located. The overhangs are open around their sides and were intended for hay storage. I had always intended to provide water inside the barn as I thought the heat from the cows would help to keep the water from freezing. Now generally I do not shut the cows in the barn, however I can and did on the very coldest of nights this year, the coldest temperature below -30ºC.

After much thought I decided to build an insulated box two of them in fact. One was located outside the inner wall where the water pipe came to the surface. The other was located inside the barn where I intended the cows would have access to water. I designed and built the inner box with 5 ½ inch insulation and so a hinged lid could be raised giving the cows access to the nose pump. With everything in place and working I realized it would not be enough to keep severe cold from freezing up the works and water. I had to figure out how to add heat to the box without electricity.

I had decided I would try a hand warmer, but was not confident it would work. At this point my dear wife talked about taking a hot stone to bed in the depths of winter and so an idea was born. As we have a Findlay Oval kept on throughout the winter, it was simple to just put a couple of stones in the oven and take them up to the barn as necessary. So each morning and night I wrap the stones in a towel, put them in a cloth bag, take them to the barn and tuck them in with the nose pump. I open the box for the cows to get water twice each day. Yes maybe a little more hands on from my point of view, but then hay has to be put out anyway. Our low tech and inexpensive solution works and there is no running cost other than slightly tired shoulders. I don’t suppose this is a unique idea, they rarely are in my experience. Maybe others out there do something similar, but if anyone has a winter water issue and you have access to a summer nose pump, what we did might work for you. If anyone has questions I would be happy to try to answer them.

I am Steve Tubb.