Keeping the cogs turning
After last winter, many farmers made resolutions to be prepared for the worst this year. Unfortunately, the improvements don't always measure up to the resolutions and, once again, urgent issues need to be addressed.
These include getting water to stock, milking the cows and avoiding damage to machinery and equipment.
- Water supply -- Protecting pumps, pressure vessels and main supply pipes is important. A lot of pumps are deep-well submersibles so they will be fine, but the pipes and fittings from the pump to the pressure vessel and from the pressure vessel to the sheds need to be kept thawed. Putting a thermostatically controlled fan heater in the pump house is one of the simplest ways to do this.
If you can get the water supply as far as the shed, with any bit of a thaw, water should start to flow in the troughs. The supply pipe to the troughs could be extended on further out of the house after the last trough to a tap.
This tap can be left on enough so that a trickle of water is flowing all the time during freezing conditions. With the amount of water the animals are using and the heat from the animals, there is a good chance that the pipes will not freeze up.
How effective it is will depend on various factors, such as whether the shed is open-fronted or not and where the pipes are routed, etc.
Water-supply pipes to the sheds that are above ground will cause endless problems. Ideally, these should be put under ground. If this is not practical some other solution, such as rigging up a temporary supply of a few troughs along the feed barrier that can be filled from time to time from a pipe and drained when not in use, is required. A bit of ingenuity is needed. Leaks are always an issue at this time so lag, drain or provide heat for vulnerable pipes, eg copper, and have a supply of spares to make repairs.
- Washdown pumps -- Farmers were hassled last year because impeller housings on washdown pumps froze solid and leaked profusely when thawed. These housings are easily broken in this way. The only solution is to shut off the water to the pump and drain the impeller housing completely.
- Scrapers -- There are various reports of trouble with scrapers. Outdoor scrapers are collecting snow which has to be cleared at tank entry points. When frost is really hard and slurry freezes problems occur with ratchet mechanisms. Keeping the ratchet mechanism clean and the track free of frozen slurry in vulnerable areas, ie near doors etc, should help.
- Tractors -- Keeping the tractor in a shed when not in use will keep it ready for action in most cases. The cooling system obviously needs anti-freeze. This rarely causes problems nowadays. However, if the cooling system has been drained during the year or is being regularly topped up, the block is in danger. Any leaks need to be attended to and anti-freeze put in the cooling system.
There have been some problems with diesel jellying-up. Traces of water in fuel lines will freeze regardless of the anti-freeze in the fuel and end up blocking fuel flow. Water in filter bowels will freeze and can crack the glass. Plastic filter bowels on fuel storage tanks are also prone to damage in this way, so check these on storage tanks. Don't forget, this includes central heating fuel tanks.
- Batteries -- Fully charged batteries are better able to cope with extra demand of starting during cold conditions. A bench charge will give them that bit extra power and the life of the battery should be prolonged.
- Sprayers -- Make sure pumps are fully drained and/or run an anti-freeze solution through them. Pressure gauges are prone to freezing damage. The ice strains the gauge so that it reads incorrectly. Remove the gauge(s) from the sprayer and store away from frost, and drain out pipes and hoses.
Tom Ryan, Teagasc