Recently we posted a short video (YouTube link) to the DS Family Farm Facebook page showing how we provide fresh water to the cow herd in subzero weather. Late December 2017 through early January 2018 we had a 17 day stretch with temperatures below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) and many stretches below 0 degrees F (-18 degrees Celsius).  The system worked fine and we finally sold the propane tank heater we were keeping around for backup.

The secret is to keep the water surface protected from the WIND!  Since the video generated some questions on how the system exactly works, below is our “How To install a Subzero Frost Free Tank”:

Step 1:  Start with a heavy-duty tire from your local shop.  A few years ago we were able to get a used tire for two-dozen donuts!  The tire shop workers were glad to see us coming.

used tire for tank

Use sawzall (reciprocating) saw to cut holes in one tire sidewall (for cattle to stick their head into). Not an easy task, best accomplished with help of teenage boys!  Do not cut the entire side wall off!

Step 2:  Place and level tank in pasture.  We place the tire tanks on a ridge, in a fence line dividing two pastures.  We also drill a hole near the bottom of the tire and insert a pipe with a valve.  From the valve we run poly pipe over the ground and gravity flow water to portable tanks throughout the pasture (not during winter).

place tire tank

Level spot for tire tank. Once in coming water pipeline is trenched to tank, place geotextile fabric around tank and add crushed rock on the fabric providing a solid area for cattle traffic.

Step 3:  Bring water source (trench in pipeline) up through the bottom of the tank and also add overflow outlet tube/pipe if you like.  Next add concrete to plug the bottom of the tire hole to create a “tire tank” that holds water.

plugging tire to hold water

After pipes are brought up through bottom tire hole, pour concrete to seal the bottom of the tank!

Step 4:  The tank pictured below serves as our freeze proof tank (see diagram at end of this blog post).  The pump only runs when we have sunshine!  The photo below was taken during a long cloudy stretch of weather a few years ago.  A series of 12 volt batteries connected to the controller will run the pump without solar power.  Just once or twice a year we may run out of stored water before the sun shine’s again.  (Solar panel in background of photo below).

tank filling

Water running out fill pipe. Overflow tube is white tube near fill pipe. Float switch wires visible.

Step 5:  During winter, add a cover with flaps and cattle simply raise the flap to reach water.  In southeast Nebraska we are blessed with consistent sunshine during winter.  Even on cloudy winter days the solar panel will usually generate enough power to pump water and keep the tank recharged with fresh warm water.  If the air temperature reaches near or above 32 degrees F, this system works without any problems.  If temperatures are well below freezing, a layer of ice may form overnight on the water surface.  Cattle usually break the ice on their own and drink but the float switch may be frozen in the ice layer above the water surface.  We have to break the small layer of ice and allow the float switch to fall to the “ON” position for the pump to run.

cows lift flap

Tire tank cover. Cattle lift flap to drink. Fresh water keeps tank warm and prevents freezing.

Overview of entire system:

freeze free tank

The bleeder valve allows water to drain back down the fill pipe. Without the bleeder valve, water above the frost line could freeze solid after the pump stops.  A frozen fill pipe would cause all kinds of problems!

One last note on our system:

We actually run two tanks from this single well/pump setup.  A valve near the well (below the frost line) allows us to direct water to either tank pipeline.  With a float switch in each tank, we inserted a three-way switch to the controller.

  1. With the controller switch in the top position, the float switch at the top tank controls the pump.
  2. With the controller switch in the bottom position, the float switch at the bottom tank controls the pump.
  3. With the controller switch in the middle position, neither float switch controls the pump!  Pump is always “ON”.

What is the advantage of being able to switch the pump to always “ON”?

  • Answers:
    • In very cold weather, with the switch always “ON”, when the sun shine’s, the pump is running water.
    • Any extra water just runs into a pond at the “overflow tube” outlet (to daylight on diagram).
    • If a layer of ice forms overnight, the new fresh “warm” water will thaw the ice layer.
    • This gives us one more option to make sure the cattle always have access to fresh water.

In summary, protect the water surface from the wind and recharge fresh (warm) water daily.  Do your research, information from Canada is very helpful.  We also like these ideas:

  • Add a thermal “heat tube” under the tank
    • Based on our experience, not necessary if you have adequate recharge in our environment.
  • Frost free “nose pump”
    • Yes, cattle pump water when then need it with their nose!

We urge you to take four minutes to watch “NRCS: Pasture Management“.  It really does a nice job describing some activities we practice here at DS Family Farm.  These practices work for both pasture health and animal health and ultimately your health!

  1. The depiction of Rotational Grazing at 1:20 into the video is excellent.
  2. There is a discussion of excess manure at 3:00 which is not an issue in our pasture grazed only system.
  3. We are not “organically certified” but follow organic practices in much of our operation.

Overall, a nice video by the folks at USDA.

We all enjoy the beauty of trees in fall colors.  What does this season change mean for the land and animals?  What is nature doing?  How would large herbivores such as buffalo respond to the annual leaf drop?  These are the questions to think about when working with nature.

Elderberry leaves seem to be one of our cattle favorites to BROWSE.

Elderberry leaves (bright greenish yellow) seem to be one of our cattle favorites to BROWSE.

Grazer or Browser?

Cattle are primarily grazers, preferring grass over broad leaves.  Sheep will generally eat about half grass and half leaves.  Goats are primarily browsers, meaning they prefer leaves (broadleaf weeds and trees) over grass.  All three are ruminants, they have a special stomach called a rumen.  The rumen is full of bacteria that digests the incoming vegetation.  As vegetation is broken down by bacteria, nutrition is released and made available to the animal.

The broad wide mouth of a cow is obviously designed to grab swaths of forage, such as grasses swaying in the prairie and probably one main reason cattle prefer to graze.  Since the main incoming vegetation is grass, the bacteria that best thrive on grass will be dominant in a cow rumen.  It is best to feed the dominant bacteria population in their rumen what they want, and not sending down something the bacteria is not used to, resulting in an upset tummy.

Grazing the annual leaf drop in a section of forest/stream that was last grazed the summer of 2016.

Grazing the annual leaf drop in a section of forest/stream that was last grazed the summer of 2016.

Grazing Leaves?

If a leaf drops on the ground before it is eaten, is that considered Grazing or Browsing?

Cattle aren’t much for climbing trees!  Goats are known to climb somewhat (warning don’t park your car where a goat can climb it).  The cattle herd will browse the lower branches of trees creating a “browse line”.  This time of year the leaves come to the cows!

So why eat leaves if you are a grazer?

  • Tannins
    • These somewhat toxic compounds, mainly found in tree leaves, can actually help animals balance digestive problems.
  • Nutrients
    • Leaves contain different nutrients than grasses.
  • Other
    • Reasons the cattle only know.

You will find warnings to not let cattle have access to this tree leaf or that weed leaf.  These warnings imply cattle are dumb?  Luckily we have smart cattle.  As long as the herd has adequate foraging opportunities, we do not worry about poisonous plants.

  • Our Momma cows teach their calves.
  • If someone gets an upset stomach from something, lesson learned!

We do avoid poison hemlock patches during the winter when hemlock leaves are green and everything else is pretty much brown.

Annual leaf drop in forested stream area. The herd is excluded from this section of stream that was grazed earlier this summer.

Annual leaf drop in forested stream area. The herd is fenced out from this section of stream grazed earlier this summer.

Annual Leaf Drop

With just a little planning we can MOVE the herd for the opportunity to take advantage of the leaf drop.  We let them choose how many and what leaves to graze.  Other things to consider during this graze:

  • Stream channel stability
  • Water quality
  • Wildlife needs

When leaves fall in the stream and dissolve, carbon dioxide is released.  Carbon dioxide plus water creates carbonic acid.  This weak acid breaks down rocks/minerals.  The changed mineral content of the water cycles new minerals through plants and animals.  The break down of rocks is also part of soil formation.

It is easy to see and understand the process described in the photo of the stream and leaves shown above.  But this is the exact same process the cattle herd encourages in our prairie!  When cattle stomp and manure a pasture, the dead grasses release carbon dioxide and moisture in the soil or from rain creates carbonic acid in the prairie soil creating more soil!  What a wonderful design.  Remember the bacteria described in the rumen of the cow?  The exact same process is also going on under our feet in the soil!  SOIL is one huge RUMEN full of all kinds of microbes.  Do you think it is an accident that these processes have a similar design repeated throughout nature?

Grazing and managing cattle in natures image results in:

  • SOIL CATTLE!

    • Nourished by the soil

    • Creating new healthy soil

    • Feeding healthy people

  • Not OIL Cattle!

    • Dependent on fossil fuels (OIL) for:

      • Fertilizer and pesticides

      • Machine planting, harvesting and hauling

Please contact us if you would like to visit the herd of SOIL CATTLE always on the Mooooove.

Our previous post covered how we deal with bugs that bother our herd on the inside.  Everyone is probably more familiar with those pesky bugs that bother our cows on the outside.  Yes, cows come with a fly swatter on their hind end, but here we list a few management practices that help our herd put up with these pesky bugs.

Compare the fly pressure between these two cows! Quite a difference wouldn't you agree?

Compare the fly pressure between these two cows! Quite a difference, do you agree?

Did you know some cows attract more flies?

Apparently the level of testosterone within an animal makes a difference in attracting flies.  Usually bulls will attract more flies than cows.  So if we have a cow attracting a larger number of flies, that is a red flag.  The cow shown in the photo with higher fly pressure is on our list to be culled.

Many cattle owners don’t know there is a difference in fly pressure between cows.  The use of insecticide feed, ear tags and pour-on products prevent their cows from displaying fly pressure.  If this last sentence is confusing to you, many farms use chemical fly control in the following ways:

  • Cows are actually fed larvicide and insect growth regulators!  Yuck!
  • Ear tags contain insecticides.
  • Insecticides are actually “poured onto” the back of cows.

Remember, pests are natures way of eliminating the weak.  The use insecticide products on cattle across our land accomplishes two things:

  1. Allows poor (weak) cattle to stay in the herd.
  2. Creates super flies that are resistant to chemicals.

Super Files

Since we mimic natures management with our cattle herd, we are not worried about the super flies being created by the use of insecticides on other herds.  No chemical insecticides used on our herd.  Fly management starts with manure management, flies lay their eggs in cow pies.  Our fly management includes:

  • MOVE!
    • It takes a few days for fly eggs to hatch and mature.
    • We keep the herd in front of the flies the best we can.
  • Pasture Diversity!
    • There are all kinds of critters that feed on flies and their larvae.
    • Dung beetles, birds and other creepy crawly things in the soil are encouraged.
    • Unfortunately, those using poisons are reducing natural predators in the process.
  • Stock Density.
    • With tight herd moves cattle will smear their recent manure pats before moving to fresh pasture.
    • Smeared cow pies = destroying the habitat for fly larvae.
  • Minerals.
    • Sulfur seems to be a key mineral for repelling all kinds of pests.
    • Pests avoid healthy animals, they are searching for the weak.
    • Minerals keep our cattle immune system working properly.
  • Natural “organic” repellents.
    • Until we can get the animal culled from our herd we have had good luck with “Eco-Phyte” from AGRI-DYNAMICS.
      • Contains essential oils such as lemongrass and eucalyptus.
      • There are other organic products to consider.
    • These type of products are becoming more available as alternatives to Deet based products for humans now days!

Recommended Reading

For more on flies and herd health we recommend you search the following sources:

We are not talking about that fly in your house!  What about those bugs that live inside our cattle?

Prior to becoming Animal Welfare Approved, we didn’t think much about the bugs inside our cows.  We had heard about using a microscope to check for “worm eggs” in cow manure but as much as Doug likes looking at cow pies, this seemed a little bit odd.  Actually, we just didn’t know how to go about it.  Annual testing for internal parasites is a requirement of the Animal Welfare Approved process.

Brown stomach worm life cycle, image source: Beef Cattle Research Council (http://www.beefresearch.ca/).

Brown stomach worm life cycle, image source: Beef Cattle Research Council (http://www.beefresearch.ca/).

During our first Animal Welfare certification process, the inspector told us to just take a manure sample to a veterinarian.  How simple!  Fifteen dollars later we had a worm egg count.  With our animals on pasture all the time, we figured we were good.  The June 2016 report actually told us that at our egg count number of 1200 per gram was bad, we were losing production!

A toxic wormer was not an option for our herd.  Doug reviewed notes from previous training.  The solution we used this past year was a non toxic supplementation approach:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Diatomaceous Earth
  • Salt

We created a mix of equal parts of the above three items and fed it to the herd in a tub.  In addition, during the fall and early spring we added Cina homeopathic remedy to their water.

Results

The June 2017 egg count report came back at 200 eggs per gram.  The veterinarian told us to keep doing what we were doing as this is a very good – low egg count.

Is a non-toxic supplementation program a solution?

We are happy with our results from last years efforts, but it did take effort.

  • What if we managed grazing heights better?
  • What if we moved more often?

We believe we can lower worm eggs with just better grazing management.  Look again at the image above.  Apparently the larvae can only climb the vegetation so high.

  • Keeping grazing heights higher should reduce larvae ingestion.

As for more often moves.  In a recent Stockman Grass Farmer article, grazier Greg Judy does an excellent job explaining how he has reduced herd health issues with more frequent moves!

Our goal at DS Family Farm is to give a fresh section of pasture to the herd every day.  This past year we have implemented providing TWO moves to fresh pasture during a day on occasion.  We understand that even more moves (4 or more per day) would benefit both the animals and the grass even further.  Think of the roaming herds of buffalo with moves when they wanted.

Balance and How

It all comes back to balance.  There are only so many hours in a day.  We always remember our WHY we do what we do.  We provide clean meat for peace of mind.

  • HOW we produce clean meat is always a work in progress.

Feel free to join us on our journey of how we continue to improve our management in our attempts to mimic nature.

 Email us or give us a call if you would like to visit our in MOOOTION herd, the herd on the move.