Winterizing Your Grazing Infrastructure and Some Winter Water Tips

This is a twofer article. The first half is courtesy of Rob DeClue who has tips on getting your infrastructure ready for winter. Then, since water is always a winter challenge, Kathy has added some examples of winter water solutions you might consider. Enjoy!

Shortening daylight, crisper morning air, frost coated grass, and the changing of the leaves undeniably signal the end of yet another grazing season, unless you have stockpiled some pasture. For some graziers, the livestock will shortly come in under cover for shelter and feed under green-up next spring. The end of the growing season also triggers the task of winding down field work, and putting equipment away for the winter. Just as with farm machinery, your grazing equipment – fencing and watering system components – should be winterized until you need them again in the spring.  These tools that permit you to get the best forage quality out of your pastures are an investment, so taking care of them now ensures their long-term use over several seasons.

Photo by Richard Wright
Photo by Richard Wright

Here are five quick pointers to get you started:

1) Back off tension on high-tensile fencing.
This is important near public roads where heavy snow tends to pile up, and along woods that might shed large limbs or even an occasional tree.  Reducing the lateral pull of the strands at the corners, ends, and gates diminishes the shifting of the posts during changes in ground conditions of freezing and thawing.

2) Unplug power cord of energizer from 115/230 VAC outlet. 
Simply turning off the unit will not entirely guard it from surge coming into it from the utility side.  Having a surge protector between the energizer plug and the outlet also helps, but unplugging completely eliminates the potential for damage.  Although there isn’t much lightning during the winter months, surges can result from other issues on the utility side.

3) Store temporary/portable fencing material under cover. 
The ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause deterioration of the plastic and resins used in electric twine/ribbon, plastic and fiberglass posts, and other products.  Keeping them out of the weather extends their useful life considerably.

4) Shut off the water to your watering system. 
While this seems intuitive, if not done, it can quickly ruin your distribution network of pipes.  The pressure generated at the supply end combined with the pressure of ice in the pipes can crack or break the pipes easily.  Also drain the pipes if they are above the frostline to prevent ice from damaging them over the course of the winter.

5) Lengthen above ground plastic pipe as necessary. 
Black polyethylene pipe has a relatively high thermal expansion/contraction coefficient.  As an example, for a 1000-foot run there would be a change of almost 4 feet in length when the daily temperature changes by 40oF.  This can cause pipe to separate at junctions or other fittings, so putting some slack in the line either by repositioning the pipe or adding extra footage in the pipe will prevent this from happening.  If your pipe has separated during the grazing season, that’s a sure sign that there isn’t enough “give and take” in the line for temperature variations.

Of course, if you winter animals outside, and/or have freeze-proof watering systems, some of these tips won’t apply to your farm. So, we’re adding some tips to Rob’s advice here.

Winter Water Systems From the North

Click to download the full factsheet.

Keeping stock watered in winter can be a challenge. With that in mind we thought we’d check with our neighbors to the north to see what kind of solutions they’ve come up with to make watering easier in even the coldest winters. We found this factsheet from folks in Manitoba with four different solutions as well as some good tips to consider when you’re setting up for winter watering. Here are four different options. For details on setting them up, download the full factsheet.

Motion Detector Water Pump-Up System

Cattle drink from a small bowl which only fills with water when a motion sensor detects movement in front of the drinking bowl.

Portable Ice-free Waterer

Cattle drink from a water trough which only has a small area situated outside of a well-insulated building. The building temperature is moderated by the latent heat of the hundreds of gallons of water stored within the building in a poly tank.

Here’s how a farmer uses this concept to water his pigs in the winter.

Mining Tire Geothermal Waterer

Cattle drink from a water trough made from a used industrial mining tire. The bottom side of the drinking water trough is kept relatively warm with geothermal heat rising from below the frost line.

Geothermal Ice-free Waterer

Cattle drink water out of the top of an insulated galvanized tube which contains about about 500 gallons (2,300 litres) of water. The water is kept warm from geothermal heat and the latent heat contained within the water itself.

Snow as a Winter Water Option

The Alberta ranchers use a variety of watering systems including the frost-free nose pumps you can see cattle using in the video below. They also take advantage of snow as a water source. These ranchers are working on larger landscapes, and they don’t provide water in every pasture. “We start close to the water and as we move farther away, they have to walk farther. At the end, they have to walk a half mile,” says Darren Frank of Dercam Farms. Other ranchers second his observation and one notes that some cows are too lazy to walk in every day if there’s enough snow for them to use.

 

How do you know if your cows can manage with snow cover? Duncan MacMillan says that if your cows start licking at the first snowfall in the fall then you’re good for the winter. “But if you lose your snow in the fall and you have to go back to water, and then you’ve got to start them back on snow, that’s definitely hard on cows,” he says. MacMillan prefers using snow to water his herd, but cautions that you need enough quality snow.

Click to download this factsheet on research on snow as a water source and tips for getting your herd started on snow.

Research has shown that eating snow doesn’t affect weight gains or body temperatures, nor does it require any additional energy from their food to melt the snow and bring it to body temperature. Researchers also looked at impacts on calves. They compared weights for 9 to 10 month old calves where one group drank water and the other relied on snow. At the end of the trial, the snow calves were 4 pounds lighter than the water calves, and their feed to gain ratio was slightly higher, but the difference wasn’t considered significant. They did see a difference in feeding and drinking patterns. Snow-eating calves ate their daily feed at a slower rate than calves with access to water. They tended to eat more frequently throughout the day and alternated feeding and snow intake. Animals provided with water tended to drink only once or twice a day. Researchers surmised that alternating feed and snow consumption may help minimize thermal stress.

If you’re interested in snow as a potential water source, keep in mind that it is a learned behavior. It can take four to five days for all cows to become snow eaters. In the meantime, be prepared for restlessness and bellowing. Novice snow eaters will adapt faster if they are with animals who have become accustomed to snow. If bellowing and restlessness persist after four to five days, investigate. The cows are trying to tell you something is not right.

You also need to have clean snow, and an alternate water source in place in case conditions change and the snow on the ground is no longer adequate for your herd. It takes about 10 cm (4 inches) of snow to get 1 cm of water (1/2″) and ice-crusted, wind-blown or trampled snow sources are not adequate for your livestock.  Please download the fact sheet for more information on how to manage your cattle for snow feed. And here’s another On Pasture article on the topic as well.

I hope this helps with your winter watering challenges. If you’ve got suggestions of your own, share them in the comments below. And if you have questions, share those too. If one of our On Pasture Community doesn’t have an answer, we’ll be happy to look for a solution for you.

If you have winter stock watering solutions that might help others, share them in the comments below!

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