Friday, March 23:
Let no one disparage the minions of the government indiscriminately.
Last night the grassroots Eastern Ohio Grazing Council held its March meeting in the back room of a little restaurant in Carrollton. Fifteen or twenty farmers of various ages, sexes, and backgrounds ate a little dinner, drank a little coffee, and reviewed the past three years in which they and many other local farmers of modest means have met, to walk one another’s farms and study grass farming and the responsible stewardship of the land. Our leaders in this enterprise are six or eight young farmers who, in addition to farming, work for the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the University of Ohio Extension Agency (“the Extension”), and, yes, even the USDA.
In other words, the Enemy. The Government. The cause of our taxation.
We find friends in the strangest places.
Don’t think of them as government employees. They are farmers, some of the most determined and informed graziers we have met in person or in print, and they are devoted to making their experience and learning available to the rest of us. They are committed to the renewal of our soil, the responsible use of our water resources, the husbandry of our animals without pharmaceuticals, in a word, to sustainable, local farming. They are just like us.
I wonder if The Gubment knows.
With the warm winter and this strange, early spring, many of us are thinking ahead to a summer which may strain our water resources. One topic addressed last night was a review of the various ways we farmers sequester and utilize water for our stock. The term “jury rigging” might have been coined just for the farmer’s vocation, and this is no more evident in anything than in our methods for accessing water. Gravity-fed systems and powered systems of many kinds and hybrids deliver water to the grazier’s livestock. Since there are resources out there describing water systems conventional, creative, and downright ridiculous, we will leave you to investigate these on your own, and describe here the system we presently use. You can decide for yourself to what order of creativity it belongs.
These were our first resource for watering livestock, twenty years ago when the livestock were goats and chickens. Two small, rainwater and spring-fed streams enter our property from the north and west to merge about half-way across, flowing thence another mile and a half, to the great Ohio River. In the beginning, all paddocks and tether radii had to include a section of riparian water. In the driest summers we set half-barrels in the creek beds and filled them by directing water from higher up into our vessels through gutter pipe. As many as eight or ten goats and kids might at one time have accessed the creek, and our concern for the integrity of our stream banks put fuel to our search for watering alternatives.
We presently sequester rainwater from two of our barn roofs, catching the runoff in BCI’s (these are those aluminum-reinforced plastic containers with a capped opening in the top and an outlet with a tap at the bottom). The roof downspouts are directed into the BCI (hereafter to be referred to as “water hog”) and the overflow does just that – overflows. Not a very sophisticated system, but as each hog will hold 275 gallons, this rainwater cachement means we can water stock for about two weeks in the absence of any other water source, and with two creeks on the property we are seldom in the absence of any other water source. Actually, the water from these hogs is used mostly to irrigate the gardens when necessary, but we mention it here as part of our overall water system because it is our backup for watering livestock.
Technically speaking, our principle source of stock water is not a developed spring, which would imply water rising of its own accord from one or a few fonts, but an improved seep. An improved seep, again technically, refers to a French drain laid down above a wet place on a slope, with the collected water running into a tank or a series of tanks. This is our piece de resistance, and our most complicated hydro-technology. Our collection pipe is about thirty feet long, passing at its lowest point into a settling tank. From there in the winter the water passes through twenty feet of solid pipe thirty-six inches underground to rise in a collecting tank at the back of our barn. Two outlets from this tank feed, one, the pig nipple in the pig pen (this is a stem valve watering device for use with low pressure water) and two, to a French drain under the barnyard that empties at the confluence of North creek and Jeddo’s run. A third outlet is planned to feed a stock tank we will sink in the hillside a few feet from the collection tank. This in the winter. In the summertime, the settling tank empties into a water hog also behind the barn which, when full, is emptied by a jet pump into yet another water hog up the hill from the barn. From this we run flexible hose to any point in the pasture, where it fills a half-barrel through a jobe float valve, another device for controlling water under low pressure. The half-barrel is dragged along when we move the polywire temporary fencing that encloses each small paddock in the summer.
We have one small spring-fed pond, from which the animals water by preference when we don’t fence it off. When they do water there they break down the banks and muddy the water, so we usually keep them out of it. Plans this summer include directing the overflow of this pond through a half-buried seventy-five gallon stock tank, so as to make yet another water source available when needed. The pond itself is a good place for ducks and frogs. It is these latter that sing us to sleep on spring nights.
So much for our water system. It has the virtue of being almost off-grid, it does not utilize fossil water, and, being from a number of sources, has many insurances against failure.