Cold critters, cold farmers, colder pipes

I had hoped to have things more winterized by winter (rule #1 of farm restoration: everything takes longer than it seems).  Freezing came, and we still don’t have water at the barn, and we still don’t have power upgraded, and we still don’t have the equipment shed fixed enough to move animals to it.  So we are back to hauling buckets of hot water.

Beasties are holding up fine.  Joy is a vital sign just as sure as temp and respiration; critters are testing 100% for joy.  ‘Pacas kick up their heels, goaties do the run-and-jump.  Nary a complaint, which is big because alpacas and goats are prone to complaining when our service isn’t up to their high standards.  (Hummm.  Maa!  Maa, I said!   Hummm!!)

Until the hard feeze morning, that is.  Queen Goat was complaining off the bat, her bucket froze over and she thought we should have tended it as soon as we reached the barn.  Still, just mahhing “waiter, oh, waiter!” rather than screaching, so she’s doing okay.  One small problem: Our supply of hot water quit.  We have a crappy well, so there’s a pressure tank to build up a supply of water sufficient to make water move.  Somewhere in the system, a gremlin quit the water.  No hot water at the tap, nothing to haul to beasties.  Nothing to defrost buckets. 

I had been to the farm store during the week, but the only bucket defrosters I found were not goat safe.  Chickens are easy – they don’t mess with cords.  Goats investigate everything, usually with their mouths.  When they bore of the novel new wired thingie, they go back to jumping and butting and playing and knocking things hither and yon.  I can’t put a simple power cord into a goat space – it has to be military grade.  I didn’t find military grade at the farm store, so we’re left hauling buckets.  No running water, no buckets to haul.  We got a small supply of hot water before things froze.  I chipped the ice out of the buckets, we added enough hot water to melt the rest.  Sips of cold water all around, frozen fingers back to the house for a minute to defrost.

I put a brooder lamp into the (already well-insulated after last year’s freeze) well pump house.  We waited.  Put a black bucket over a hose nib directly connected to the well.  Sun warmed things a smidge.  Put a heater in the garage, just in case the pressure tank lines are freezing just outside the house.  Hours later, water flowed.  Hot water visited all the beasties again.  Yay!  But we weren’t sure what problem we had fixed.  By bedtime, we had no running water.  Ack!  With the pressure tank, we don’t know when water stops coming in, just when the supply is too low to pressurize the lines.

We checked and checked anything we could think of.  In the meantime, we picked up a jug of water from the store.  I boiled water on the stove, piping hot water to melt the ice and make buckets liquid again.  Alpacas are drinking from a construction-site style water thermos; goats have double-buckets to try to insulate a bit, chickens have nice warm water from the water heater I have hated all year*.  Duck makes sad noises waiting for her delivery of warm water; as a single, her small water supply is quick to freeze.

Morning came and still no water.  Terror.  Our well pump is a submerged pump, an unusual style.  If we could get a well repairman out, he might not have parts available.  Well repair is another item that’s not in the budget (it was in the budget, but a year of farming while paying city taxes wasn’t in the budget, so now the budget is squeezed dry).  We had a contingency plan for well failure – rv water tank to hold a week’s worth of miserly usage.  Our contingency plan wouldn’t work when temps dipped into the 20s, and probably wouldn’t last a week of watering so much livestock, anyway.  Our backup contingency plan is rainwater harvesting, but that requires liquid rain.  Even the snow won’t help, it’s not deep enough to scoop up a good, clean quantity.

In desperation, we bought a pipe heat tape.  Removed all the insulation we had put on last year, put on heat tape, wrapped all the insulation back on, freezing fingers and toes.  And waited.  Anxiously.  Hours later, still no water.  I tapped on the water storage tank, empty except the bottom 12 inches.  More hours later, we turned on the tap, one last check before calling up a repairman.  Water!  Water!!!

It feels a little silly to say “I really like running water.”  But that is my truth. 


* The chicken waterer has a long cord that dangles below and tempts the chickens to play with it.  There’s a groove on the bottom for wrapping the cord around, but nothing to hold it to the bottom except a piece of tape.  Chickens peck at the tape until the cord dangles again.  When we’re outside freezing weather, it’s just a pain in the behind.  We finally retired the damn thing, but resurrected it when the nipple waterer blew out in the freeze.  The ones at the farm store now have a much shorter cord.

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