Friday, December 2, 2011

Water Works

Much of last month was spent dealing with water projects.  The first was  the installation of a drinking fountain for the cows.  I have been longing for one of these ever since our first winter of hauling water for the cows in 5-gallon buckets from the house when our outdoor hydrant froze up.  Carrying 12  5-gallon buckets full of water per day to fill up the stock tank is hard on the back, shoulders, hands and elbows. 

In the summer I use a hose to fill the stock tank, but it takes so long, I inevitably get distracted and start working on something else while it fills and have frequently overflowed the tank, sometimes for hours, resulting in a huge, mucky mess.  With a fountain, not only would I save my body and not have to haul water on those frigid winter mornings, it would never overflow, never freeze up and never run out of water.  It is kind of pricey, but when I learned the electricity cost savings would pay for it in a couple years, I was able to convince Rog.

A fellow at Tractor Supply highly recommended  a Richie Eco-Fount and I tracked down Mark Hinrichs, the dealer and installer in Zumbrota. Fortuitously, there was a very old, non-working Richie Fountain inside the barn already. I wanted to place the new fountain on the outside of the barn right next to where the inside fountain was sited, so we were able to tap into the existing water pipe and power. First, Mark did the preliminary  plumbing work.
The next weekend, while I cleaned up the garden, Rog did the wiring and poured a concrete slab. Besides providing a surface for the fountain to be mounted, it extends out far enough that the water dripping from the chins of the cows after they drink does not create a mud puddle around the fountain.
The concrete pad project followed Nelson's Law that every home-handyman project takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you expect and requires a second trip to the store.  We were still mixing concrete in the dark (dark comes early this time of year).
I clipped chicken heat lamps to the fence to provide light to finish up the work. When the concrete set up enough, we put bales of straw on top to keep it warm enough to cure and barricaded the project with the ever-useful pink iron bunkbed frames so no cows would sign the pad with their hoof prints.

A few days later, Mark returned to install the fountain. It looks sort of like Little Tykes plastic playground equipment. They also manufacture it in green, but for some reason green costs $50 more, so we went with classic primary colors.  Rog had done an excellent job with the concrete and wiring--the fountain fit perfectly.
A stainless steel liner is set inside the plastic box to contain the water. 
 Mark had an audience of curious cows the entire time he worked.
An insulated plastic disk floats on top of the water. The cow has to push it down with her nose to access the water.
My intelligent cows figured it out right away!  They have to take turns drinking, but they seem to like it. The water is always fresh and clean, at a comfortable height, and probably isn't as icy cold as it was in the stock tank.
You would think that would be the end of my water story, but no, there is more. A few nights later, the Friday after Thanksgiving, we returned home to discover there was no water on the farm at all. The pump on our well had gone out.  Cows need to drink many gallons of water to digest all that hay they eat, so it was an urgent situation.  Luckily, it had been an unseasonably warm day and I had filled the pool for the ducks for what might be their last swim of the year, so we bailed that into the stock tank for the cows to drink. 

We called up Mark, our cow fountain installer, and because he works with dairy farmers and understands cow water emergencies, he promised to come first thing in the morning. Having always lived in town it was our first time with no water and made us realize how much we take water in the tap for granted. I melted a couple ice cubes for toothbrushing and fortunately, there was enough water left in the coffee maker for two cups of coffee the next morning. But no showers, toilet-flushing, dishwashing, water for cooking, laundry, or plant-watering.

It turned out that our well pump was kaput.  When  Mark pulled it out he could tell that it was 50  years old. He said the typical lifespan is 12 years, so I guess we can't complain.  We are thankful Mark was willing to spend all Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend installing a new pump.  And it was nice that it didn't happen on Thanksgiving or during a blizzard.

You don't miss your water 'til the well runs dry
You don't see the sparrow 'til she starts to fly
You don't miss your baby 'til she says good-bye
When the well runs dry you just hang your head and cry
                                                               - Phil Wheeler, The Nodding Wild Onions


Callie said...

No water is no fun. I used to hate when the well ran dry and we had to haul water. Love the fountain.

quinn said...

What a wonderful waterer! I was thrilled to bits to find a birdbath heater at a tag sale for 5 bucks - it was enough to keep my goats' main water bucket from freezing solid last winter. I still hauled water, but no chopping, no dumping out 5-gallon ice cylinders. And that's with goats...with cows, your waterer will be magic!

Funny about the price on the green set-up. I bought snowfence recently, and the green was $10/roll more expensive than the orange. Guess I can live with orange.

The Luddite said...

SUCH a great post!!! and I thought in a power-out losing the flush was a big deal.....

Becky said...

That cow fountain is awesome! So glad he could come out and fix your well pump so quickly!