Last year we completed fencing the Lower field, and chose a spot for a nose point waterer across Beaver Run. This large creek is a watershed for several miles before running through the Lower field, and before last summer’s torrential rains, was home to several large beaver dams.
The design and purpose of a nose point waterer is to permit one or two cows at a time to drink from stream, then back out without pooping in the water. A herd of cattle will politely and calmly take turns walking to the water for a drink.
We located the nose point waterer under a large sycamore tree for shade, in a place where the creek bank gently slopes toward the water. The opposite bank is high and steep, a perfect wall to discourage a curious cow or rambunctious calf. After clearing the brush from the creek bank, we sank t-posts along both sides of the bank and then two on the opposite bank, leaving just enough space for a cow to access the water for a drink. Lining both sides with two sets of high tensile wire that were tied into the existing perimeter fence, the waterer was functional, safe and secure.
Then one evening in June, a summer storm hit that dumped over 4 inches of rain in a couple of hours across our area. Checking on the cows, we found hoof prints going half way down the bank and then nothing except smooth sand. Both electric wires from the right side of the bank were pulled across the path blocking access to water. High water and debris had destroyed the waterer, pulling the wire off of the posts and burying everything under sand, brush and rocks. Although the wire was tangled and stretched downstream, high tensile is very strong so there weren’t any breaks and the lines remained electrified. Step one was to turn off the power to the fence by flipping both cutoff switches we had installed for just such situations. With the daytime temperature climbing well into the 90’s, this was a crisis. All of the cows, the bull and calves were growing bit frantic.
Oh, and did I mention that three of our grandchildren, ages 7, 5 and 3 were staying with us at the farm, sans parents when this storm and crisis occurred? With the grandkids in tow, our options to get water to the herd were a bit limited.
The best choice would be to clean up and restore the nose point waterer because the grass in the Lower field had barely been grazed. As I stood in the mud, debris and tangled wire, listening to three young ones anxious to play at the pond or at least meander in the creek, the thought of starting a complex job (because nothing like this is ever quick and easy), was horrifying.
Bill and I looked at each other and simultaneous said, “Let’s open the red gate and move the herd back to the Mountain Field.”. The grass there was short but not overly grazed and most importantly, the water hydrant 100% reliable. We loaded the grandkids into the back of the mule, gave them feed buckets and showed them how to call the cows. The herd came running and within five minutes, every cow was jostling around the trough for their turn at much needed water.
After a fun filled week on the farm, we delivered the grandkids back home to the parents and turned our attention to fixing the nose point waterer. A friend recommended a new type of connector Lock Jaw, that holds the wire securely to the t-posts but then will pull away without breaking when the water rises and debris catches on the wire. Keeping our original design, we rebuilt the waterer using the new connectors.
With the herd still hanging out in the Mountain field, another storm blew through and again produced inches of rain in just a couple of hours. This time, I wanted to see what the creek looked like after such an event. As soon as the storm began to let up, we drove out to the Lower field. Earlier in the day as we rebuilt the posts and wires, I stood in water that was ankle deep. At the tail end of this storm, the creek at the point waterer was over 6 feet deep, covering the entire cow path down to the water and nearly overflowing the bank.
The force and strength of the flash flood was astonishing and had the expected impact on our waterer. All of the wires we had just rehung that morning were pulled from the t-posts, debris clinging to every wire and post, trees and limbs piled up everywhere. Clearly, the nose point waterer had to be redesigned.
We decided to bring the two sets of wires from each side of the path to a point on the opposite bank. Instead of attaching the wires to t-post, we used a ratchet strap wrapped around the limb of an over hanging tree for added height and greater flexibility. The distance between the t-posts on the near bank was the same as the initial design, but on the opposite bank changed from a square to a point.
By now, several weeks had passed since the first wash out and the cattle had eaten down most of the remaining grass in the Mountain field. The time had come to move the herd back to the plentiful grass in the Lower field. Despite moving the herd during the early morning hours, the weather was already hot and humid. Fortunately, there are several large wooded areas which make the Lower field ideal for summer grazing.
Ideal that is until the cattle refused to use the redesigned nose point waterer! When we checked on the herd around noon that same day, every single cow was panting and stressed, looking longingly at the new watering hole from the top of the bank. There was not even one hoof print in the sand on the slope of the bank.
This time, there was no moving back to the Mountain field because the grass there was overly grazed. I drove back to the barn, grabbed a bucket of feed and made a path of sweet grain down to the water line. No one budged, not even an inch. These cows, who would normally eat grain out of my hand and who were clearly in great need of water, would not take even one step down the bank to get a drink. Suddenly, Shane the bull caught the scent of molasses in the sweet grain and thought a drink of water might be nice. He lumbered passed all of the girls, ate his way down to the water, took a nice long drink and then ate his way back up the path. The ladies looked at him like he was the stupidest thing on earth. Not one cow followed him.
The cows had to stay in the Lower field for the grass and they were in desperate need of water, so we drove back to the barn and gathered two rubber troughs and filled a 65 gallon tank with water. Still in a heat wave with 90+ degree temperatures, we began hauling water to our herd. While filling the tank, Bill and I contemplated the root cause of this dilemma. Were the cows remembering the first storm when a live electric line blocked the path? Maybe one or more of them had been shocked if the lines electrified the water when the level was still high. Or did the ladies not like the look of the redesigned waterer? I leaned towards the memory theory.
Regardless of the root cause, until this was resolved we had to haul water to the entire herd. Each cow requires at least 20 gallons of water per day in the summer heat. Immediately we made two trips with the tank which the cattle drained almost before the water hit the troughs. Then two more trips later in the afternoon and then another two just before dusk.
We were exhausted but the cows were ecstatic.
A herd of cattle has a pecking order and with water being scarce, the top cows drank first and drank their fill. Then, the second tier cows pushed their way to the water for a drink. The poor cows on the bottom of the bovine social ladder got a few sips at best. This happened every time we refilled the troughs. Bella, Gilley, Pippie and Garnet were well hydrated while Hazel, Heidi, Crazy Heidi and Rita waited.
Shane on the other hand, who was still drinking his fill from the creek, sauntered up to each trough, sucking down water like a sponge.
The calves, thankfully all still nursing, managed to sneak in between the cow legs to grab a few quick sips before the water was all gone.
The next day, I tried the sweet grain trail again.
But with the same results, no one was impressed or enticed. The hoof prints stopped at the top of the bank regardless of more grain just a few inches away.
I decided to hold the grain bucket up to Bella’s nose and managed to get her part way down the grain trail. But she stopped and turned around before getting close to the water. Not one other cow followed her, so the water hauling continued for another day. As we were filling the tank for the second time on the second evening at 10pm, we vowed to redesign the waterer first thing in the morning. I was beginning to think maybe the cows were balking at the view and not the memory of that first storm.
In the morning, we discussed the project over coffee and decided to:
- widen the point on the opposite bank to more of a square
- remove the ratchet strap, and use more flexible, composite posts instead of t-posts
- remove the high tensile wire and use poly wire across the creek for flexibility
Finally, the question was answered. The cattle had not been suffering from bad memories of the blocked, electrified watering hole, the girls had been completely unsettled by the too narrow look of the single point across the creek. After weeks of storms, building and re-working the design and two days of hauling water in 95degree summer heat, this last picture was the beyond satisfying. Hoof prints all of the way down the sloped bank down to the water. Even the butterflies drinking water from hoof prints seemed to be celebrating!
And by the next day, the whole herd including these 5 calves, was calm and relaxed. Nose point waterer crisis resolved!