Saturday, December 1, 2007

Water woes

This is not the time of the year to be having issues with providing water for horses.

My own horse drinks less in the winter months as a rule, preferring water slightly warmer than the stock tank heater temperatures. One slight brush with a possible impaction years ago, and I watch his consumption like a hawk. Yet, now that his dental condition has been remedied, the amount he drinks (without additional salt) is greater than previously. So it leads me to conclude that his mouth was sore enough to cause discomfort-which led to the tummy ache. And too, I have switched from a vitamin supplement that was pellet based, to one that is salt based-that probably helps also.

The above is just background on horse keeping, really. But I know, from having horses up here for over two decades, that water management is critical to healthy horses. Nothing, absolutely nothing, stresses me out more than water, the lack of it.

To that end, we put in (at considerable expense) a farm hydrant up near the barn. Those of you not familiar with them, they work like this: You pull up the handle, and that opens a valve at the bottom of the contraption, which allows the water to flow. This particular line is nearly 300 foot long, buried at least 12 foot down. Even just two years ago, the one inch copper was pretty expensive-the hydrant wasn't bad (just $150) but the excavating? Ha! Anyhow, I was thrilled to have it that summer. I used it nearly every day between the stock tanks and the small garden and greenhouse I have up there at the barn area. The hydrant itself was wrapped in heat trace tape, and then pipe insulation. When you turn the water off, it drains back and underground-ours is about 12 foot deep.

The first part of the first winter, everything went well. Then, it seemed to be frozen. So I would turn on the heat trace, and sometimes it would take 12 hours for it to "thaw" enough to get water from it. Naturally this caused me all sorts of worry and distress, to put it mildly. Eventually, in about March, it got to the point I was adding a space heater, to help get the valve to open. This continued until almost June when it finally warmed up enough to open without a big fuss.

Naturally we did not want to go through this again, so late this summer I had an excavator friend come out and we dug it up, again. Now keeping in mind I was working, I wasn't able to be there to provide any input...but we put an entire load of washed septic rock down below for the valve to drain into. (It turned out that there wasn't enough rock down below, just clay-that clay essentially turned into slurry at first, and then was "baked" into place with the heat trace-not allowing the thing to move freely) In addition, there is four inches of rigid insulation about four feet down-to help shed the frost away from the hydrant. They did not, of course, place the thing inside a six inch pipe like I had asked. If you do so, you can drop a light bulb down them to thaw them out if needed.

About a month ago, it started to become difficult to open the handle. Now, it can't be opened at all. I happened to find the one piece of paper that came with the hydrant, and the other day I went to talk to the folks that sold it. They, of course, don't sell that kind any longer, and really couldn't help me out. From there I went to my neighbor's work, and talked to him about it. He's a real handy guy, and I know they have three hydrants on their own farm. We spent some time going over what we'd done, and how the thing works, and came up with two or three obvious possibilities. 1. The valve down below is plugged with muck. 2. Material has worked in between the plastic draw pipe and steel outer pipe. 3. Something has compromised the packing or whatever, at the connection between the collar and the handle.

The blasted thing only has to move about a half inch or so to open. So my neighbor came over in daylight and quickly ruled out the thing being plugged down below-you can literally blow hard on them-and if they are stuck, the air will come right back-which it didn't. So that part is good. Then we tried plugging in the heat trace, which promptly blew the breaker on the cord.

He suggested I get a different cord, and try that to see if it's the cord breaker, or the barn, or the heat trace tape itself. So yesterday I bought another heavy duty cold temp 100 foot cord, and wouldn't you know it, the blasted breaker on the receptacle popped immediately. This means the heat trace tape is no good. Our logic tells us the blasted thing isn't frozen anyhow, as there is no water in it. It can only be the valve at the bottom which is gummed up, OR something at the top part, where the handle is.

Today I am calling him to let him know about the cord, and see what he says. In the mean time, I have been bucketing water between tanks, and today I MUST top them.

So I am sitting here debating whether or not to drag out all the hoses we have put up for the winter, which are buried in our conx container, or haul using buckets with trash bags inside.

I think I will opt for the hoses. And pray that the frost free tap on the barn side of the house works!

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