Tuesday 4 January 2011


One of the few formulas my memory can recall from those far distant chemistry lessons, H20, good old water. Water is a great friend and a poor enemy, as are so many of our natural resources.

One thing for sure, none of us can survive without water and that includes the livestock which we look after.

The recent cold snap caused problems for stock having access to water. Those which were outdoors may have been fortunate enough to access a natural water course, although they soon began to freeze over. Water troughs in fields soon froze and getting them running was not always possible.

As we all know snow is frozen water and when the worst comes to the worst the stock will eat snow. Have you ever melted a bucket full of snow? If you have you'll be aware that a bucket full of snow when melted will only give you an inch or two of water.

I learnt last year that for all sheep, especially, will survive by consuming snow it is actually quite hard on them due to the energy they burn digesting the frozen stuff, a fact I was unaware of but then it's quite true that you're never too old to learn. It is actually a fact which makes a lot of sense when thought about logically.

Many animals over the past weeks have had to survive by eating snow, some have carried water out to their stock but this is really impractical and never ending, there has been plenty to do without adding to the work load, after all, there has been a natural supply available as back up in the form of snow, albeit not an ideal solution.

Unfortunately those animals housed inside are dependant on a water supply. In Tarset it is mainly cattle which find themselves housed throughout the winter and cattle do drink a fair slurp of water. Some find smaller water troughs are a great help against freezing as the demand for water from the cattle sees the troughs being used more frequently therefore the water is running more regularly and so has less chance of freezing.

Body heat can also be a great help, cattle obviously generate heat and this may also help keep the supplies from freezing.

Unfortunately for many this year the low temperatures caused the troughs to freeze, plummeting night temperatures with freezing day temperatures were all too much for the cattle sheds and many hours were spent with boiled kettles and heaters trying to get the water away and running. Some failed and found their cattle in dire need of water.

Cattle drink in gallons not pints, it all depends on their size, whether they are milking (nursing a calf)or not, what they are fed on - silage does contain some moisture as does grass, hay is a dry fodder as is cattle cake, but regardless of these factors they will still be consuming gallons rather than pints, it would be an awful lot of water to carry from the house!

Other options are put into action when the water supply fails in cattle sheds, they find themselves being let out to reach a natural water course to quench their thirst.
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Unfortunately even the natural water courses can fall foul to the weather. The Tarset Burn above is frozen from edge to edge and it is to be the only water supply to some cattle which are housed near it.
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Men at work - nothing like a spot of good old hard labour, not smashing stones but smashing ice, trying to break through the frozen surface of the river to allow the cattle access to water.
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Not paper thin ice at that either, pretty solid stuff it was, so solid in fact that it would take the weight of not only the men but also the cattle.
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The cattle were only too pleased to be able to access some water, they gamboled their way out of their shed and ran down to the water side with not so much as a please or a thank you and started slurping to their hearts content.
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The steam rising off their backs gives an indication as to how cold it was, so cold in fact that the batteries in my camera were suffering and I was struggling to take photos. The whole escapade took three quarters of an hour, from ice being broken to cattle getting their fill and being rehoused. Three quarters of an hour out of the farmers day as he had to stand guard to prevent his animals from escaping below a bridge across the frozen water. Time well spent tho' as without water animals will eventually die.

The hard frosts have abated for the time being, the burn looks more as it ought and life is a little bit easier. More frost is forecast, we'll just have to hope it isn't too hard and is slightly more sociable.


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