Tag Archives: ditch

Lessons Learnt

Honestly, every entry I write could be entitled ‘Lessons Learnt.’ Usually, i learn things by bad experience which is unfortunate, but those are the ones most remember, right?!

As you know, i’ve been practicing Jaime Elizondo’s Total Grazing/Real Wealth Ranching technique now for over a year (wow! went fast) and even with my few cows and decidedly unevenly applied practice, there is a credible improvement in nutrient distribution and sward thickening.

Lesson 1 from this past week.

Even with proper paddock width, have at least 850 feet of poly braid on your reel.

One of the tenets is to design paddocks no more than 650 feet so that a reel of poly braid is easily managed and doesn’t take long to set up. However, not all paddocks measured out will be less than that due to undulating lay of the land, ditch crossings or going around ditches, draws, fingers, etc etc ad nauseum. I came up very short on one of the reels i’m using on paddock #15 and had to scrounge through all that i had in the back of my Gator. Thankfully, i had a couple long bungee cord with gate handles already attacked plus a bare piece of narrow poly braid i could tie on. About 40 feet all together to make it to the other side of the paddock. Good grief – lots of extra work. Gonna add the extra length as soon as i get a chance and put an end to extra work.

Lesson 2:

Bolster ditch gap fence!

Jaime had an excellent podcast/blog just this week about making and keeping those fences ‘hot’ (electrified). Although my fences were boasting 6.9 kw, that was not enough to keep the cows from pushing the single strand electrified rope blocking the ditch.

My previous type of managed grazing would have usually let me get away with this, however, when I’m pushing the cows/calves to graze older and perhaps less sweet grass – the stuff that really needs grazing and fertilizing to improve – they will push the boundaries if there is young green grass just on the other side. Total Grazing

Normally, the poly rope is sufficient, that is the one you see looped down through the ditch. I’ve already bolstered this one by adding the poly tape, but they blasted through it pretty sure as soon as i left
So, i grabbed a 50 foot section of poultry netting and stuck it in just before dark, made it hot and had to leave. Cows were out again next morning having once again trampled it into the ground.
Once again trying the electrified poultry netting but bolstered with 1.2 inch fiberglass poles driven into the ground.
Using a gate handle designed for electric fence is a quick, easy fix to attach fences. This orange polycarbonate has been my favorite style for decades. The wide hook allows me to hook onto just the 1.2 or less inch fiberglass posts when i need to keep fence tight but not hot.
I also moved this Speedright S1000 to a location previous set up for a much larger system which i had removed since i’m no longer trying to power all the fence on my property at the same time now. At this location, the energizer is better grounded to ten 6 foot buried ground rods which are located in the pond bank so they stay damp year round. I also unhooked a section of fence which was not longer necessary since the cows could water out of the ditch. Both of these practices made a better ‘snap’ and bumped voltage to 9.2. The good news, all these efforts paid off! The cows were in place when i checked on them Sunday afternoon.

Lesson 3 – Check paddock fences occasionally during growing season

Since i’ve moved the cows to start grazing on their winter stockpile, I’ve discovered that my 2 wire hi-tensile fences are largely ‘down’ and/or sagging badly. This is mostly if not entirely due to the large numbers of white tailed deer in our area. The deer cause not only damage to fences but also graze out a lot of the tender grasses and legumes. The work comes in at having to repair all the fences and allow the forage loss when calculating the amount of feed available to one’s livestock.

Since choosing total grazing, one half of my farm has been allowed to grow nearly an entire grazing season so it is beautiful, thick, with fat roots, and seed production. A fence that is down will be buried beneath the grass and entirely ineffective as a psychological or even quasi physical barrier. Pulling the wires up from underneath the mass of forage is a bit of a struggle and time consuming. I plan to stay ahead of that by keeping an eye on deer damage during the growing season and repairing fences so this doesn’t happen.

Challenges of Solar Water Pump

THis entry will serve two-fold; one as a page in the handbook i’m assembling about my little Tannachton Farm  – not the day to day stuff, but the month to month stuff that happens each year, and secondly to address the questions received about the details about the solar pump used on my farm.  It’s been 5 years now in use and i guess the gremlins are chased out because it is working great this year – i do hope i didn’t just jinx it!

All of the pipe and tanks on the solar system are laid out on top the ground; not buried 4 feet.  Why?  When i applied for and received an EQIP organic transition NRCS government aid that was/is the protocol.

Water pipe:  black polyethylene HDPE 1.5 inch pipe purchased in 500 foot rolls.  So, i unrolled (by hand!) about 4500 feet of 1 1/2 inch HDPE black pipe over that top of the ground to the stock tanks.  The pipe is connected using Philmac fittings of the same diameter.  The use of 1.5 inch pipe eliminates a great deal of friction.  Build drive over uprights to eliminate heavy vehicles driving over pipes in gateways. imageimage

Water tanks:  10 galvanised tanks purchased from Hastings Equity Manufacturing in Nebraska.  I needed high volume tanks because of the number of animals i would be watering and i like a low profile because not only did i plan sheep at the time, but i also want my baby calves to drink – and they do.   A 2-3 foot tall tank will not allow a calf to drink for many months (because it’s not always full).  So, i went with a Hastings sheep water tank that is 8 foot diameter, one foot tall and is lightweight enough for me to move around by myself plus it holds 342 gallons of water!  Well, realistically 300, but that’s still a good amount of storage.  I have 10 of these tanks in use with no problems so far in 5 years.

The technical stuff:  It’s a Dankoff Solar pump.  Pumping through 4500 feet of HDPE pipe which are connected with Philmac fittings.   The pump house was built by MSF Farm Mike and Jeff Fries, Linneus MO.  They also assembled all the pump and installed it inside the house and attached and wired the solar panel to the top of the house to make a seamless, easy to use and move system.  To install all the workings, they also dug out to my pond drain pipe and tied into the pond and set up the shut off valves for that as well.  It was a big job.  As an aside, they also installed the solar panel on a tall pole for my electric fence.

Initially, there was one battery installed, but that is absolutely not enough.  I’m using two now and that is fine unless there is a long period of no light.  With two batteries, the pump will continue for a theoretical 90 minutes before the batteries are drained.  Once the batteries are drained, they will NOT recharge and allow the system to start again once the sun starts shining.  They must be at least a little charged before the solar panel will charge them again.  This is a protection of the system so that the pump won’t keep trying to kick on every time there is a hint of sunshine.  In my opinion, there should be a way to keep the battery from completely draining, then a meter that only allow the pump to start again when the batteries are fully charged.  So, what happens when the batteries are completely drained?  I have to undo the connections and load them into my Gator and haul them home to a charger, charge them overnight, then take them back and hook back up.  Perhaps not a big deal to most, but those batteries weigh at least 50 lbs each.

However, this year, once i got it all going, i’ve had no shut down now for over a month.  Very happy.

Elevation:  the solar pump, panel, pressure tank, and housing are all located below the pond at about 817 feet above sea level.  There seems to be little loss of pressure to the furthest point of 3480 feet undulating between 817 and 874.

My system is all fair weather and above ground.  This means that i wait until there is no freezing in the forecast before firing it up.

Spring preparation:

  1. replace plugs in tanks
  2. replace plug in water filter
  3. Install batteries and connections
  4. Wash off solar panel
  5. Remove any wasp nests from inside enclosure
  6. Make sure ground wire is in place
  7. Turn on water at pond to make sure good flow, then turn off.
  8. Connect pipe to pond outlet and flush, then connect to inlet valve
  9. Turn on pond water, water will come out outflow valve – you will get wet
  10. Connect outgoing pipe to outflow valve
  11. If there are no leaks in the system, at this point just keep moving down the line as water flushes out the pipe and reconnect at each connection.  It is important to flush the lines because i can guarantee there will be some mud and mice which have built homes in the line over the winter.
  12. Finally, flushing out the end of the line before connecting to tank float assembly.  Connect and allow tank to fill.
  13. Just about guarantee that the tank will not be level, so you will have to watch it fill and make any float adjustments.  If it cannot be kept from leaking over the side, shut off water valve at the tank.  Either drain the tank (oh yeah, be sure to put the plug in the tank before filling) via tank plug or leaving it for the cattle to drink down.  Use a 2×4 or some such to level the tank.

If the solar supply cannot be checked everyday,  always let the cattle have access to a gravity fed water supply below a pond or to the ditch if there is water running there.  When the weather gets hot, the cattle cannot be allowed to be without water.  If this does happen, let them into a pond lot so they can all drink at once.  Be vigilant and thoughtful as to water supply.

Fall shut down and drain: BEFORE freezing weather arrives

  1. Unplug the pump, shut off solar panel access, place arm in ‘off’ position
  2. Shut off water from pond
  3. Remove pipe from shut off valve
  4. Using channel lock pliers or some such, remove large nut from the bottom of the water filter
  5. At this point, walk outside the gated enclosure, then to the north and find the connection.  Remove it using two channel lock pliers.  You will get wet, but once detached, quickly pull the pipe towards the ditch to the east.  Water from all the pipe will come rushing out!
  6. While that is happening, go back to the pump and remove outflow and inflow pipes from fittings.  Making sure there is no freeze points.  Remove plugs from tanks as indicated and make sure they drain.
  7. Remove connections from batteries and take the batteries home to a warm place.  Don’t allow a discharged battery to freeze.  They can discharge in the winter without you knowing.

Solar Water System 2014 (8)
The little trailer is all set and hooked up to the water system.  Solar panel on top is 550 watts and available as part of this system that Mike Fries, Linneus, MO builds.   My panel is set below a pond with the bank to the west.  This means that sunlight in the fall can be very iffy in the late afternoons.  Consider shutting it down as needed.

2014 (2)
Another view of the trailer.  The pump does not fill this pictured tank; it is fed by gravity flow from the pond above.

Solar Water System 2014 (5)
Very handy – nay, imperative, to have quick coupler with individual shut off at each tank.  This allows for flushing of the line all the way to the tank and also allowing the ability to shut off the tank when not in use.  This assembly easily screws into the Philmac 1.5 inch female adapter.

Solar Water System 2014 (3)
Nice flow through the valve – flushing and checking before quick coupling to the hose to the float assembly in the tank.

Solar Water System 2014 (6)
Full flow fill through pipe and into tank makes for 6-7 gallon fill per minute.  Float arm and tank assembly all put together by MSF Farm, Linneus, MO.

Solar Water System 2014 (10)
Morningstar TriStar Solar Controller

cattle 010
I keep a photo of the wiring configuration inside the pump house because i can’t remember from year to year how to wire it up properly!  Good grief – the battery recommends ‘team lifting’!  Where am i going to get a team?  I gotta pack that sucker myself up, out and around, and lift into the Gator.

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Dankoff Solar Pump from MSF Farm

IMGP3978

IMGP3977
Flotec pressure tank

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All the above photos are the insides and working parts – MSF Farm will put this all together for you based on your own situation.

Now that I’m done writing up this entry, my system is down. 😦  It seems calves hit the fence near a tank which allowed them to bump the float and the water was overflowing which caused the  batteries to be drawn down – yup, i’ve got them in the back of the Gator, brought home, and now charging.

Such is life!

Cheers

tauna

Sheep are Corralled Once again!

This article had been written back in the winter, but could be said for today and many other days as well. Today i found a dead ewe and a dead lamb wrapped up in the electrified netting.  Why can’t they stay out of it!  Sheep were out, but corralled AGAIN.  This is just a regular problem.  Half of the sheep are scheduled for sale at Kirksville Livestock Market on August 3rd.  The rest will go when lambs are old enough to wean.

Those little woolly buggers!  They busted out for freedom, but freedom for sheep generally means something will go wrong and some of them will die.  Sheep must be kept in close and protected ALL the time.  Since I cannot be there as a full time shepherd,  I rely on guard dogs and electric sheep netting.  Together, those work about 95% of the time.

Alas, they did bust out at a bad time – the ground was extremely frozen and there was no way to replace the fence, so they ran amok on 320 acres.  During their freedom, one orphaned lamb was nabbed by a coyote and a young bred ewe had fallen into a muddy ditch and couldn’t get out – both died of course.

However, today I managed to reset ten nets to give them about 10 acres plus 8 big bales of hay – this should hold them for quite some time.  The ground along the ditch bank and out of the sun was still frozen, so I had to use the hammer on about 75 posts to drive them in!  Nevertheless, the sheep are now safe once again, so it was all worth the effort.

Stuck Ewes

Yesterday, I found two ewes and a young lamb stuck in the muddy ditch.  Of course, I had not worn my mud boots, so my short work shoes would suffice, though I was up to my shins in sticky clay.  They were a bit of a challenge to remove leg by leg out of the muck, but with their cooperation and effort, I made fairly short work of it.

Today, I drove up with the specific purpose of walking the ditches in case more had found themselves engulfed in mud, but none were thankfully.  However, the storm moved in and i was completely soaked from the thunderstorm.  Additionally, I counted seven live newborn lambs as well as two ewes were beginning to go into labor.

We have missed the worst of these passing storms, however, and for that we are grateful.

Stay safe!

tauna