From Pipi’s Pasture: Playing in the water |

From Pipi’s Pasture: Playing in the water

Diane Prather
Diane Prather

All it takes is for temperatures to be in the single digits, like this morning, for me to appreciate tank heaters, even if they are costly to operate. Tank heaters, placed in stock water tanks, keep ice off the water. Sometimes when it’s below zero or a cold wind blows, a layer of thin ice forms on the water, in spite of the heaters, but once the ice is removed, the cattle have ice-free water all day long.

Of the three stock tanks we maintain here at Pipi’s Pasture, only one isn’t set up for a tank heater. It’s a big tank, located at the far end of the corral where we try not to keep many head of cattle—until calving season. During the winter and early spring, keeping the tank ice-free is a nightmare. It all begins in the fall, when the ice isn’t very thick. Each morning the ice has to be broken and all of it removed because whatever is left just gets thicker and thicker with each night’s cold.

Eventually, as the temperature gets colder, it’s not possible to remove all of the ice. I have to resort to keeping part of the tank ice-free; that part of the tank gets smaller and smaller as the days go on. It’s more like cutting a water hole in a stream of water in a pasture feedlot, except that the water in the tank isn’t moving.

Then, finally, I have to abandon the large stock tank altogether, until warm weather returns. I resort to using recycled mineral tubs that look somewhat weird since they’re of a variety of sizes and colors, but they work and keep the cattle watered. The ice-removing chore is a bit more complicated, though. When our grandchildren were younger, they took over this chore. I think they considered it to be play.

So, here’s how “playing in the water” works. Each morning I arm myself with the tools: a pitchfork or hatchet, an old sieve or basket full of holes (saved from an electric deep fat fryer) and a couple of buckets. The trick is to take every piece of ice off the water’s surface because all of the little pieces that are left seem to join up and form another layer of ice. So, I break the ice, take off the larger pieces by hand, and dip up the little pieces in the sieve, letting the water drip through the holes back into the tank. The ice is gathered up in buckets and dumped onto a pile next to a fence. Care has to be taken not to leave ice around where cows can slip on it.

You can see why kids enjoy this chore. I might, too, if it wasn’t so time-consuming and it wasn’t so cold in the morning. Besides that, ice is slippery, and it often slips from my hands, splashes back into the tub, and gets my face wet. Playing with ice isn’t so easy on the fingernails, either. One winter when I was using the sieve to get ice off the large stock tank, I lost it in the water and couldn’t retrieve it until spring. But it’s all in the day’s work to keep the cattle watered, and if you like playing in the water, it might just be the chore for you.

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