Cold weather challenges flow of water!

We are all dealing with this, whether frozen pipes in the basement, burst pipes on the side of the house, or other symptoms mysteriously affecting flow, of the world's most precious resource. It is one thing when one has a household of two or four or six to manage. Alternative solutions can be improvised for a while. It is another when one has 500 animals who need water on a daily basis, and there is nowhere else to go. In winter, their demand for water is less than in the heat of summer, so one has about 24 hours to fix problems that arise.

Our water tubs in winter are recharged from the bottom, with flow being arrested by the yellow float at the top. On a daily basis, in freezing weather, one has to clear ice from the surface so animals can drink and ice does not play with the float. It will stretch the string between float and shut-off valve, allowing water to overflow the tub. This fairly quickly shuts down the pump, in the spring-house, preventing refill of other tubs on the farm. 

So, when Kathy reported she went to break ice on this tub and found it to be half empty beneath the surface of ice, it was clear a mysterious problem had arisen! Water was leaking somewhere.

The first step usually employed is to ignore the problem, hoping gods will deliver unexplained solution by morning. Since one only has 24 hours to resolve the matter, and when hour-20 arrives without divine intervention and the forecast is for continuous sub-zero weather, a sense of urgency sets in! I thus braced myself to attack the matter. The temperature had risen to about 20 degrees, so I had a nice, warm, momentary opening in which to play with water, wrenches, fittings, and ice. 

The first step was to remove as much ice as possible from the tub, in order to eventually turn it over and examine what was transpiring beneath. The next step was to drain the tub of water, which typically requires unscrewing the plastic plug at the bottom. Well, the plastic plug was comfortably frozen in place, and was totally unresponsive to efforts with vice-grips to force it forward. What to do? Go have lunch, of course!

So, over lunch, I shared with my good wife the current predicament. Having studied plumbing in in both culinary and law schools, she immediately suggested taking a thermos of hot water and pouring it over the plug. That was an embarrassingly insightful suggestion, which worked perfectly, as you can see to the lower left. 300 gallons of water poured out, creating a sloppy mess, that was turning to ice with every increment of procrastination.

The next step was to turn the tub over, which is not much of a problem when no ice is attached to the inside perimeter of the tub. When there is, it is quite difficult to lift it up-and-over in one motion.  But I was able to lift one end of the tub enough to place the empty two-gallon thermos-jug under it. I then could squat down, and push the ice-laden tub up-and-over. Making progress...

Next step was to empty the 55-gallon barrel beneath the tub, housing fittings, that had filled with water.  One can empty three quarters of it with a 5-gallon bucket from a kneeling position, but the last increment requires lying down on the cement pad. I scraped and shoveled as much water off the pad as possible, and laid down some towels brought just for this purpose, so clothing wouldn't get wet. The barrel was thus emptied, only to immediately refill with ground water from the bottom, some of which came from the 300 gallons that had just been dumped out! The barrel was thus patiently emptied again, with gloves getting wet, despite care taken. I would periodically retreat to the truck to warm hands and had also brought a second set of dry gloves, having learned from previous encounters. 

Finally, the barrel was empty of water, and one could try to identify why and where the leak was transpiring. The two hose-clamps at either end of the hose had not come loose. The next thing to check was the plastic female socket that receives the male end of the hose, and activates the flow of water when plugged into. That female piece screws into a 3/4 inch, threaded, elbow-connection which has a compression-fitting on one end, connecting to one-inch black pipe, buried three feet deep. Tightening the female socket is easy, requiring a pipe-wrench and about ten seconds of time. It that doesn't fix the leak, then the problem is in the elbow-connection and compression-fitting, which are buried in mud and are about six inches deeper in the barrel. That repair takes about an hour of working upside down in a tight space, and is not a lot of fun. I was rooting for the female socket.

The problem proved to be the loosened female socket, to the plumber's great relief. Once the socket was tightened and hose plugged back in, the tub was re-positioned and refilled. Despite precautions over the previous two hours, I was somewhat wet and beginning to feel cold. But it looked like we were on the downhill side of this problem.

However, while the tub sat empty, residual water in the valve at the bottom of the tub had frozen. Once the tub was full, the float wouldn't entirely shut off, and water began running over the side, creating more mess. Well, desperate problems call for desperate measures. I took off my glove, took out my pocket knife, opened the blade, plunged my arm into the warm 55 degree water, and was able to find the spot on the valve where a slight build-up of ice was preventing the valve from closing. I scraped enough ice off, that the float took hold, and flow of water was arrested.

In tepid triumph, I then got into the warm truck and drove back to the house, feeling increasingly cold, and very relieved. 

We have noticed in this cold weather that cows come to drink in groups rather than individually. When ten cows are grouped around a water tub, each drinking five to ten gallons at a time, followed by another group of ten, followed by another, it is difficult for our 1 h.p. pump in the spring-house to keep up with demand. When this happens, it loses prime, and shuts off.

Last year we hooked up to the county water system, to maintain as a back-up for spring water. County water delivers lots of volume and pressure, and has served us well over the past 12 months, as a back-up, and comes with a monthly bill. 

Two days after the first incident described - yesterday, we noticed two water tubs were nearly completely drained, and the spring pump was off. Given that two inches of water in the bottom of a tub in freezing weather is going to freeze the valves, it was important to refill those tubs quickly. So, I turned on the county water, because it delivers a lot quickly, feeling glad we had invested in that insurance. But nothing came, and nothing came... Frustrated and perplexed, with dark approaching and cows wanting water, I was able to re-prime the spring pump, and over two hours slowly refill those two tanks, without losing water pressure.

That evening, in reflection, I realized the county water had probably frozen, at the water tap and meter, out by the road. So, the next morning, I filled a ten-gallon thermos with hot water, poured it into the barrel of the tap, and behold, watched the meter start to run again. Now a bale of straw sits atop that water meter, and our insurance policy is back in effect. 

I apologize for this long and tedious account of our challenges with water during the past week. Each of the details recounted, however, loomed very large when trying to solve an essential problem. This is what our week has been about. It has ultimately been about stewardship of livestock. We do all we can to give them the best life possible, especially in extreme conditions, so we can deliver to you the highest quality food possible. 

One final note on this subject. After working three hours on the water tub, two days ago, I began to notice, toward the end, a little man appearing above my head. He was carrying something that looked like a pitchfork, and he had a sly, unseemly grin on his face. He began taunting me, asking if I didn't want to go back to that comfortable office-job I once had (that almost killed me) and how did I like being miserable in the cold.  I tried ignoring him for a good while, but finally lost my cool, and grabbed the frozen pipe-wrench, lashed out, and struck him down to the ground. Then I maliciously poured a bucket of cold water on top of him and stomped him into the snow. He seemed to disappear, but I yelled at him anyway, never to come back! 

Our demons are too often close-by, but they can be overcome if we remember who we are.

Hogs happily pile up, like extended family, to stay warm. Laying hens and Coquie have moved under second roof,  closer to warm water. 

Below is the picture of spatchcocked chicken, that eluded the last newsletter, served with mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, and a tomato salad. On the right is shortrib burger, potato pancakes, and baked apples. Potato pancakes came from left-over mashed potatoes.  

Below is a rediscovered favorite - brined pork chops. The chops are brined in a gallon or so of water with a quarter cup of sugar, quarter cup of salt, and herbs of interest, for three hours or longer. They are then seared on a hot grill or frying pan for two to three minutes per side and placed in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes. Juicy, succulent, and flavorful! So good, it is hard to eat only one. We are really liking Berkshire meat, and think specific breed does make a difference in quality of pork. 

The accompanying sweet potatoes were hand-delivered by a farmer and friend, from his harvest in North Carolina.


We have missed you over the past three weeks, and want to you to be caught up on essential breaking news at the farm.

A number of well-informed people are referring us to a strange, mystical practice called "rest".  We have heard about this, but are suspicious of new-age fads, especially one that doesn't let you do anything. Nevertheless, we have agreed to give it a try, before dismissing it entirely. Accordingly, capable colleagues, Beth & Bob Gehres, will be standing in for us at the Hyde Park Market this Sunday. 

As the New Year rolls in, let us resolve together to keep: water flowing, demons at bay, and good food coming!

Drausin & Susan