Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Using Troughs to Water Stock on Ochre Arch

Since taking direct management responsibility for Ochre Arch we’ve had a bit of a dream run from a stock watering perspective. We’ve only had stock during the winter (growing season) months when the pasture has a high percentage of green grass and in all cases they’ve been sheep – which do not require water when the pasture is green and the ambient temperatures are low. The watering requirements are now more complex given we own our own stock which are at a point where they are more difficult to move off the place in case of need (recently lambed ewes), warmer weather is kicking in (drying off existing feed and higher temperatures increasing animal water requirements) and we have many paddocks that do not have water points (as a consequence of the fencing we did last year and the fact that we’ve yet to start installing our planned integrated on-farm stock water scheme).

We have decided to ‘get our hands well-and-truly-dirty’ (acquire direct and substantial experience) devoting time and effort through the rest of Spring, all of Summer and potentially a fair chunk of the coming Autumn installing temporary water points. With this as a back-drop we now have a good mobile fire-fighting pump and set-up, 3 ‘David Marsh designed’ portable water troughs and a sufficient quantity of lower cost 1 ½” rural polythene pipe and associated fittings that we hope will be see us through. There is also a reasonable amount of water in our dams (although we are very aware of likely evaporative losses and have reduced run-off due to higher vegetation cover), our stock numbers are reasonable in the context of available feed in the paddocks, and before too long it will also be easier for us to sell stock.

The key elements of the trough design are:
• Aluminium panelling for light weight and durability. The trough is strong enough to withstand a large animal (such as a cow) jumping into it.
• Overall length 4.15 metres, with 3.4 metres accessible to stock – quite long in the scheme of portable troughs allowing access for many animals
• Easily removable cover for the float, designed to ensure animals are not able to tamper with the float mechanism
• Steel ridges along the bottom of the trough at ground level and tow points at the top enabling it to be readily towed to the next location if desired
• 40 mm drain (with bath tub plug!) allowing rapid emptying.

The adjacent photo was taken on 9th September when we’d almost finished setting up the first trough in the Saddle Paddock. The last time the sheep grazed this paddock was 1-7 June and full plant recovery had occurred. Water was gravity fed via polythene pipe from the Yabby Dam. To kick off the flow we used the fire fighting pump and water in the tank at the trough to prime the pipe. This worked very effectively – off the back of a simple float on the end of the pipe where it went into the Yabby Dam. Flow into the trough was pretty good, given there was about 7 metres of head from the Yabby Dam water surface to the trough. You can see that herbage mass and ground cover was also good at the trough location. We did not want to have stock baring the ground too much as they used the trough. Distance from the dam to the trough is around 130 metres – less than the length of a full roll of 1½” polythene pipe.

The location of the trough was such that we could see it clearly from the Cottage using binoculars. For us this was fabulous as we also got the chance to see how the animals used the trough. Some of the observations included:
• Both the ewes and the larger lambs sourced water from the trough
• Each ewe lead the way to the trough, with their lamb/s at their side
• A small number / percentage of lambs did occasionally go to the trough unaccompanied
• At any one time the number of animals at the trough were up to 8 to 10
• There was never a ‘big rush’ (or certainly we never saw one) to the trough
• Time spent drinking was on average around 30 seconds for each animal. They’d walk up, drink, and walk away
• There was a constant flow of animals to and from the trough during the day
• We had no problems with the trough or float, and did check it closely each day.
• There was always adequate water available in the trough. The water in the Yabby Dam is not clear. Pat Coleby in her book, “Natural Farming – A Practical Guide”, states at one point that murky water is or can be a consequence of the soil being deficient in calcium.
• Some of the lambs had trouble reaching the water and moved along to a point where the distance to the water was the shortest. We did see one lamb jump into the trough to drink but it got a heck of a fright and jumped straight back out again.

The adjacent photograph shows the trough at the time the sheep were removed from the Saddle Paddock – after 10 full days of grazing – on 19th September. Observations:
• Whilst the area around the trough had been heavily trampled the soil had not been bared
• Some faint sheep tracks were evident – leading to the trough
• The herbage mass underneath the trough had not been eaten
• The Corkscrew Grass (part of the stipa native grass family) plant near the trough had not been eaten
• The sheep had urinated near the trough but there was not manure near the trough
• In the background are some lambs taking minerals from one of two small mineral troughs we’d made and left nearby.

We’d placed a ball valve and cam-lock on the end of the polythene pipe leading into the trough to allow for easy removal. At this point in time the pipe and ball valve have been left in the paddock for possible further use.

Prior to moving the sheep out of the Saddle Paddock we’d set up a new watering point (tank-based) in the Crater Paddock – visible in the accompanying photograph. Some of the features of this water point are:
• Source of water is Poppy’s Dam, located approximately 300 metres (2 lengths of polythene pipe) to the west in Poppy’s Paddock. The polythene pipe sits on the surface of the ground i.e. has not been dug into the soil.
• Water is being pumped from Poppy’s Dam to the water point using the fire-fighting pump. The dam is approximately 25 metres lower than the water point
• Water is being pumped into the top of a 4,500 litre (1,000 gallons) poly-tank adjacent to the trough. The trough is connected to the tank at the bottom via a 10 metre length of polythene pipe.
• Using the tank in the above way means that water heated by the sun in the long length of polythene pipe has the chance to cool in the tank prior to flowing into the trough. Also, it means that the pump is used efficiently – only to fill the tank when required (assessed manually).
• There is adequate pressure from the tank to (re) fill the trough in reasonable time. This is due to the amount of flow that comes from the short length of 1 ½ inch connecting polythene pipe.
• Ball valves have been placed at the exit point from the tank; and also at the end of the polythene pipe at the fire-fighting pump at the dam. Cam-locks have once again been used at appropriate places for ease of setting up and dismantling the water point
• The tank has been strategically placed at the top of a rise, from which it will also be possible for us to water 4 other / additional paddocks (via polythene pipe extensions and relocation of the trough) if need be: Hopbush, Amphitheatre, Quail and Yellow Box.
• Based on one of the observations in the Saddle Paddock we adjusted the trough so that when full the water level would be just below the top of the trough at the end away from the float. By so doing it will make it easier for lambs to access water.

After moving the trough from the Saddle Paddock to the Crater Paddock we moved the sheep and lambs, shepherding them around to where the trough was. See the accompanying photograph.

When we checked the sheep yesterday they had been in the Crater Paddock for a total of two days. The tank had emptied by 6 rungs (from 22 when full) and it took just under 15 minutes for the pump to refill the tank. From this we have calculated:
• 1 rung in the tank holds roughly 200 litres of water
• 1,200 litres had been used in 2 days, meaning daily consumption rate is currently 600 litres
• Pump flow rate is around 1.5 litres per second, meaning that the tank would take around 45 minutes to fill from scratch

Other comments and observations:
• We have 3 different brands of pipe fittings on hand and now appreciate the need to standardise to a single one
• Cam-locks do not seal well if there is side-ways pressure on the join

1 comment:

Phillip Diprose said...

After posting this blog article I contacted David Marsh to confirm he was happy for me to reference him, which he as now done. In his reply he also commented: "I too recieved one model the same as yours with the plug ... I was concerned something may dislodge the plug and so I screwed an inch and a half male camlock onto the threads protruding through the bottom of the trough and have a camlock cap on that which I remove to drain. When shifting the trough with that arrangement I do not have the cap in place in case something gets caught on the cap."
Thanks David. I think I'll follow your lead on this suggestion. PD