The winter of 2016-2017 was brutal here in northeast Oregon. From late November to early March the temperature got above 32 degrees F maybe as many times as I can count on one hand. Probably fewer. I did not keep accurate records. But it was cold. The average temperature for December and January was probably about 10 F. I could be exaggerating but probably not. I take being cold very seriously.
We had just moved to the little off-grid ranch we now own, and at the time had no idea what we were in for. The only frost-free hydrant near the barn was busted from cows itching themselves on it for the few years that this place sat unoccupied by humans. The other frost-free was far enough away that if you walked a 5 gallon bucket from there to the barn the water might freeze in the time it took you. We wound up hoisting buckets of warm water from the kitchen sink. I’ve complained about this before, probably on this blog, so I apologize if it’s getting repetitive but believe me it was terrible and I can’t forget about it.
Enter winter 2017-2018. “Winter” here is a thing that starts in November definitely, maybe sometimes as early as September so it’s best to be ready by August. We didn’t close on the place until mid-September, and then because we had shoveled so much money into the actual home-buying process it took me a month or two to dig deep and buy the non-electric horse waterer of my off-grid dreams. Then it took a few more weeks to find the free time (and more money) to rent a little mini excavator and buy the other supplies needed to install said dream waterer. We were cutting it close, folks.
BUT! I am happy to report that on the second weekend of November we still had cooperative weather and capable human hands and enough money in the bank to rent that digging machine and make dreams a reality.
This is how we did it.
Step 1. Get to know your excavator.
Step 2. Employ a very serious supervisor (or two).
Step 3. A bunch of technical stuff that I didn’t pay much attention to because plumbing is scary and I am not qualified.
Step 4. Demonstrate and hope your animals are smart/thirsty enough to figure it out.
The old horse is persistent/belligerent and has very little fear of anything and therefore was the first to learn. The mustang is probably the most intelligent, but a little more wary, so he was next. The mule, who is supposed to be very smart, was also very nervous about the New Thing in his paddock and therefore waited a couple weeks to catch on completely. I saw him drinking from puddles and generally acting very put-out until he finally decided that since the others were doing it the thing must be safe enough to approach. We don’t have the greatest water pressure so if it’s not filling fast enough he tries to put his hoof in there to show us all how frustrated he is. The waterer was available with an optional chew-guard which we did not elect to purchase. I may suggest they also offer a hoof-guard.
We’ve had some wicked cold nights already, and the waterer is reliably providing above-freezing (taking the temperature of the water coming up is on my to-do list) water on demand to our three equines. When the snow really flies we’ll have to make sure it stays cleared, but otherwise it’s pretty low-maintenance. I was a little worried about the cold metal paddle being brutal to touch with a muzzle in frigid temperatures, but so far no one seems to care. I only have to water the chickens and ducks each day now, and I could not be happier about that. Bring it on, winter.