20 July 2013

New watering strategy for the stock

The shape of the pastures and barnyard is an evolving thing, still. I would like it if we could just figure it out and stick with one good, workable design … but we are farm rookies, really. Every year we discover something else that sounded like a good idea until we had to live with it for a whole winter.

The impetus for this current change is that I wanted a way to have the water trough ‘downhill’ from the house, so that the water cubes we have to capture rainwater from the roof can be hooked up to the trough all summer and keep it filled without any intervention from us. Lots of fresh water, no work for the humans, that’s a good deal, right?

I also wanted it positioned so that in the winter we don’t have to run the water heater’s extension cord through the barnyard. It gets stepped on, unplugged, and generally abused when it is in the way of animal traffic, so there needed to be a way to go around. The spot downhill where the water could go for the summer would work well in that regard, but there’s just one problem: sharing.

In the past, we’ve kept the sheep and cows completely separate all winter. They run together in the summer, sharing the pasture, and they get along just fine (the calf chases the sheep around sometimes, but it’s all in good fun), but in the winter it is important to feed the two separately, or the cows will bully the sheep away from the hay. Also, after the lambs arrive there definitely needs to be a place to get away from the Big Creatures.

What we did before was keep them completely separated, with the water trough under a fence so that one half of it was available for the cows, and the other for the sheep. This works, mostly, but there are always headaches of one kind or another.

The solution (well, the solution we’re going to test out this winter) will be to have the water in the new watering pen area, and everyone will walk over there to get a drink. It isn’t very far from the feeders and shelters, and keeping the animals walking a little bit in the winter is good for them, so that’s a feature, actually. The cows will have their winter shelter and pasture area,  like before, and the sheep will have theirs … and there will be a passageway into the sheep pen the sheep can fit through but the cows can’t. That way everyone can get to the water, and the sheep can go wherever they like … and get away from the cows when they need to.

Today I got the fence up around the new watering pen – The Boy had gotten one end fenced and most of the posts put in, so all I needed to do was stretch the wire and staple it on, put up the gate and pound in one additional post. I always end up redesigning the solutions when I’m outside working, and as I was moving fences today I realized that with one small shift in the position of a gate, I could eliminate a whole lot of work and at the same time meet the requirement that the animals be able to get from any of the pastures back to the barnyard and watering pen. As it stands now, they can get from any of the three main pastures to the barnyard area, which has shelter for them from the sun or from a summer storm and has access to the water area as well. We have a fourth pasture that will have to be treated as an extension of it’s neighbour for now: it needs some more fence work done on it to be sheep-secure anyway, so there’s no urgency there.

The good news is that for the remainder of the summer, the water should be a low-maintenance thing … as long as the water barrel is full and the float valve doesn’t get knocked loose, we’re good to go. There are some finishing touches necessary – the float valve needs to be screwed in place, the fence needs barbed wire run along the top and bottom (we have discovered that woven wire alone does not stand up to the cows, dogs, and sheep – they lean on it or wiggle under it and in no time it’s bent and useless), and there’s one spot at the end where the wire didn’t quite reach that needs some boards put across it for reinforcement. However, what did get done is a good day’s work, so now I can sit down and knit with a clean conscience.

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