(post by Jason) Like most spousal rivalries the Water Wars began simply enough. When Melissa and I started Paradigm Farms nearly ten years ago we continued with Melissa’s tradition of watering horses in 100 gallon Rubbermaid troughs. At first this wasn’t a particularly challenging or onerous situation. Cleaning a couple extra troughs a few times a week took only a few additional minutes as did topping them off from a hose each day. No big deal. And Melissa liked to tick off the benefits of watering horses with hoses in a trough. She could watch them all drink individually and she could easily gauge how much water every pasture was drinking every day. Fair enough.
Fooling with troughs really wasn’t that big a deal until our horse numbers began to grow. Then watering horses in Rubbermaid troughs became dysfunctional and extremely time consuming very quickly. Cleaning eight troughs several times a week took hours of labour and filling them up used up nearly an hour each day. Then there was winter to deal with. Thankfully we live far enough south that most of the time winter presents no great challenges, at least until the inevitable cold snap hits. The location of most of the pastures relative to available electricity didn’t permit running trough heaters so for a week or ten days at a stretch a couple of times per winter we spent every spare moment keeping the water troughs open and de-iced. Even Melissa began to concede that being outside an additional three or more hours every day during the worst of our winter weather was disheartening.
This all came to a head one 10 degree January day when I was in Lexington, KY for work commitments and Middle Tennessee had experienced a rare snow/ice combination storm. As most of you know Melissa is not particularly cold hardy, and after two days of near constant ice chopping in frigid temperatures she was ready to pack it all in. I left Lexington immediately and put twenty years of Canadian winter driving experience to work, I drove ninety miles across the Bluegrass Parkway completely by myself. I was the only car on the road in either direction. Most of the cars that weren’t in the ditch on I-65 south were holed up at local restaurants and motels waiting for road crews and better weather.
I put my foot down when I got home that day. I went to our local farm supply store and bought every available trough heater they had in stock and then went to Home Depot and bought out every available 10 gauge extension cord they had in stock. I worked at it through the afternoon and by dark I had six out of eight troughs wired up and trough heaters installed. This mostly solved our ice problem, if only temporarily. I learned two things very quickly. Trough heaters are extremely temperamental objects and goodness me they use a TON of electricity.
Shortly after we got our first post trough heater utility bill, which was so big it was epic, I hit Melissa with my solution. We needed to install insulated auto waterers in every pasture. Given our investment in labour and the expense of electricity for trough heaters I thought for sure my idea was a shoe-in. Imagine my surprise when Melissa rejected it completely within seconds of hearing my proposal! Like most people she had been conditioned to believe that the horses wouldn’t use them consistently and that some horses couldn’t be trained to use them at all. Thanks to this erroneous misinformation we battled through two more years of filling troughs every day, draining the hoses after each filling in the winter, and all the associated fun of dealing with huge utility bills and persnickety trough heaters during cold weather. Fun stuff.
When we bought our new property at Lynnville we quickly realized that it was going to take a couple of years to build out the farm and move all the horses to it. Since we were only going to move two groups of horses at first I drew a line in the sand and pushed hard for auto waterers. This quickly turned into one of the biggest fights of our marriage. Neither side was willing to back down and at one point I think both of us wondered if we were going to face divorce over what had become known to most as the water wars. Finally, with a ton of misgivings, Melissa conceded to my request and I very quickly bought and installed two Ritchie automatic waterers.
Most of the horses we moved took to the auto waterers right away but a few didn’t. For awhile I put a Rubbermaid trough in each pasture and Melissa was quickly getting prepared to hand me an epic I told you so. But even she began to concede the many benefits of auto waterers. In addition to freeing us from a ton of labour every day the water in them remained much cleaner and the temperature of the water remained much cooler in summer and much warmer in winter. On a whim we removed one of the floats from each auto waterer and led the horses that wouldn’t use the troughs up to the side without the float. Every last horse drank from the Ritchie waterers that day.
After a week or two of leading the non-drinkers up to the open side of the troughs they began drinking all by themselves. When I put the floats back in a few weeks later every horse was trained to use the auto waterers. To this day when we introduce a new horse with no experience using auto waterers to our system we remove the float from one side of the trough for a few weeks and lead the horse up to the trough several times a day for a few days until he or she gets a feel for what needs to happen. We’ve introduced auto waterers to many dozens of horses over the past several years. So far our success rate for auto waterer usage has been 100%. To Melissa’s utter astonishment, water consumption *went up* when we moved to auto waterers.
One of the primary worries about auto waterers is what happens to the horses if a waterer fails and no one notices. I guess this could be a problem in situations where the waterers weren’t easy to check and/or weren’t getting checked multiple times every day. In our case we simply located them all close by the areas where we feed every morning and every afternoon. Since most every horse goes for a drink immediately after they are done eating it’s impossible not to notice if there is a problem with a waterer.
In case there ever is a problem that renders a waterer unusable we put a hydrant within a few feet of every auto waterer and we keep some Rubbermaid troughs on hand. Four years after installing auto waterers we have never needed to pull my Rubbermaid troughs out. In my books that is more than enough reason to use them. Melissa and I now both agree that the Water War was well fought on both sides and we are both glad that I won. (Melissa here: It is true, this was the one time that Jason got to say “I told you so.” He reminds me of it every chance he gets.)
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