The Frozen Water Saga

I hate to start a day on a sour note. Particularly if that day hasn’t even arrived yet.

But Saturday night, as the weather forecasters kept harping on about the coldest weather in 10+ years and using terms like “60 below windchill,” I couldn’t help but dread what Sunday and Monday would bring.

Sunday dawned clear and frigid; that ubiquitous term twenty below was accurate and then some.

Still, we got the calves fed, the cows milked, and everyone bedded down as warm and dry as possible.

There was just one immediate problem remaining. The outdoor waterer.

{As I write it, waterer looks like a strange word. I guess automatic water tank or fountain would be more descriptive, but around here it’s always just a waterer.}

This particular waterer has been a thorn in my side (and my husband’s) every winter since I’ve been here. Two inside pens of older animals have adjoining outdoor fenced yards, and between them sits the dreaded waterer. The pipes that supply it run overhead through the old calf barn, and they easily freeze in cold weather.

After the first annual fall cold snap, which usually finds us unprepared, we get the pipes thawed, re-insulated, and make sure the heat cables around them are plugged in and functional.

Even if the pipes remain open, the waterer itself will freeze in the inside if its internal warmer isn’t working. There are so many places and joints things can go wrong that problems are lurking whenever it’s super cold.

Sunday brought double trouble.

The pipes leading to outside were freshly insulated last week, and things worked beautifully for several days. It was perfect. Too perfect.

On Sunday morning I saw that the open top of the water had a layer of ice. No big deal, I just grabbed my trusty pick ax (yes, really) and broke it all open.

Once the cattle came and drank the water down, I could see that fresh water wasn’t running. So, off I went to get two hot buckets of water and a large screwdriver.

The first bucket to melt off the red cover and the screwdriver to pry it off.

The second bucket would (hopefully) be enough to unthaw the inside.

20140106-160709.jpg The waterer in question

I needed a third bucket, but I did eventually see the water gurgling through the valve.

This wouldn’t have been an altogether bad task if it weren’t for freezing wet hands and icy wind.

But wait. Why was the water starting to spray everywhere??

I ran to shut off the main water line, then came back to survey the damage.

Behold, the only picture my frozen fingers managed to take during the process.


I took this picture so I could better explain to JR what, exactly, was broken.

If you can’t tell, this little pipe actually cracked off from where it was attached. Super glue wasn’t an option, so I started hunting around for spare parts.

This is where I’d normally turn things over to JR, but he was busy trying to fix a skid loader that wouldn’t start.

I knew I needed to mend this problem ASAP, because the longer I had the water off the greater the chance the line would freeze.

I found a new plastic elbow pipe, and then I pulled out the current float, valve, and anchor piece so I could bring it inside to work on. The broken elbow pipe was clamped on to the existing water pipe, and I finally cut / pried that off with a small knife and a pliers.

I’m not great with explaining these things, but when I spread out the peices, ultimately my problem was thus:

The original elbow pipe was screwed into the water valve with a female end. The replacement I found had a male end. I needed a connection. I finally found a metal one that fit, and I generously wrapped Teflon tape around both ends so I could get it apart if things didn’t work. I hooked everything back up and turned on the water.

It was running! And running. And running…

I shut off the water line before it overflowed anymore, and I realized that my new connection made the float too long to work. The float is just a plastic bobber that floats up as the water fills and pushes the water valve shut when it reaches the set fill line.

By this point – two hours later – the errant skid loader was finally fixed, and JR came to see what was taking me so long. He easily found another elbow pipe that fit correctly, and then we didn’t need the too-long connection piece. With just a few minor hiccups the water was again flowing.

Aside from chilled fingers, I suppose neither of us are worse for the wear. My patience wore thin, but there really is nothing like the sound of cattle happily slurping at a waterer that is finally working!

From the “Polar Vortex of Arctic Air,” I wish you a safe, bundled-up Monday — indoors if you can manage it.


About Lisa

Hi, I'm Lisa. Dairy farmer's wife and Minnesotan to the core, I write about rural farm life, running down country roads, and the food, faith, and family that bind everything together. Follow along on my journey.
This entry was posted in Agriculture ( in general), Baby Calf Care, Cows and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Frozen Water Saga

  1. Pingback: Winter Chores on the Farm | Haley Farms

  2. Emily Grace says:

    “Indoors if you can manage it” – fun line!

    When people ask us if the cows will be okay in this cold weather, I tell them sure, as long as the water doesn’t freeze. Feeding is typically less trouble than watering. ;o) And it’s the same in drought.

    Waterer. I do believe farmers probably use that word almost exclusively, except for pet stores. 🙂

    May all your water defy freezing points. ~should be a Chinese farm proverb.

  3. Ugh, sounds miserable! I am always crabbier when I’m cold (or too hot) so I would’ve been very frustrated with that situation. Hope you can keep the water running for the rest of the winter.

  4. Ah, yes, the frozen waterer dilemma! Glad you got it up and running again.

    Please always ask me if my horse is okay during this weather and I tell her, yes, because she lives outside year-round and has a chance to get acclimated. Silly city people and their farm questions 🙂

    • Lisa says:

      I’ll bet it’s hard to do much riding in this weather, especially with the ice. I hope the roads will melt off soon.

      I don’t mind questions about livestock and cold weather — or any question for that matter. Most people are curious, and it’s hard if they don’t have any farm experience or frame of reference. I say, “Ask away!”

  5. Pingback: Iced Magnolias | Beef and Sweet Tea

  6. paintthetownag says:

    Fun post, and yes, we had similar problems down here in VA. Frozen water troughs for the ladies, busted water pipes in the chicken houses. Let’s just say that my Farmer never slowed down.
    Found you through Emily Grace at Beef & Sweet Tea, grateful I did!


    • Lisa says:

      Hi Lauren, thanks for stopping by! I can’t imagine you guys dealing with below zero weather so far south. I’m sure it was extra tough because your barns / facilities aren’t really designed for that kind of cold. Hope things get & stay mild for awhile now.

  7. Pingback: Farming in the Frigid Cold | Minnesota Farmers Feed US

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