Despite mild fall, Bob is winterizing farm

Despite mild fall, Bob is winterizing farm By Bob Karolevitz A stock tank doesn't mean much to city folks, but on the farm it's a mighty important fixture.

When you have animals � and we have a few � they need an occasional drink. That means year-around, of course, which brings us to the annual chore of winter preparations.

Now I'm not a very good farmer � and Phyllis is quick to confirm that statement � but I try to do the yearly things so necessary in agricultural pursuits before the snow flies and the mercury plunges to bone-chilling depths.

High on the priority list is getting the stock tank ready. The critical job is hooking up some kind of defroster to keep the ice from forming. Through the years we've had several kinds.

The worst is the old-fashioned cob-burner which, for those of you who don't know, is really just a tiny furnace sunk down in the water requiring periodic stoking to keep the fire burning. It's the economical type when you've got lots of fuel not covered by two feet of the white stuff.

Trouble is, it means around-the-clock vigils and runs to the tank because the heater doesn't work without regular feeding of wood chunks or cobs. The fire always goes out when the temperature drops way below zero and the northwest wind comes howling across the feedlot.

A propane heater is much, much better, if you remember to order enough gas before the blizzard comes. With ours the pilot light always went out when the weather was at its worst. More than once I made like an Eskimo, trying to get the flame re-lit with a long taper before I turned into a block of ice.

Besides that, I worried about an explosion which would send me skyward above the windmill. Thank goodness it never came.

We finally graduated to the floating electrical device which eliminated most of my fears, not to mention all that plodding through the drifts to make sure that everything was working okay.

I did read the instruction sheet, though, which said that failure is always a possibility and that it was my responsibility to install the de-icer properly. Being a mechanical idiot, that latter caution scares me, but so far I haven't electrocuted any of Phyllis's pampered pets. Or myself.

Probably the worst scenario at the livestock tank is when the water supply line freezes up. That means hauling buckets-ful from the kitchen, which is not my idea of wintertime fun and games. However, I do what my wife tells me to so that the animals don't get thirsty. She doesn't trust me with a blow-torch, incidentally.

In all our years on the farm, we've only had one stock tank tragedy. That was when a little goat jumped into the water, couldn't get out and then drowned. You might know, it was Phyllis who found the lifeless little fellow, and, of course, copious tears flowed.

Since then I've lined the bottom of the tank with cement blocks so any young lambs which want to go for a swim have something to stand on until they are rescued.

Oh, we've had other stock tank experiences which are hardly prime time news items. For instance, we've chopped a lot of ice when the heater didn't work. One wooden tank collapsed of old age, and several metal ones sprang leaks on inopportune occasions. Then there was the time I tried to keep fish-bait minnows alive in the animals' drinking water. No wonder the sheep stayed away when the dead fish kept coming to the top.

City folks don't know what they're missing if they don't have a stock tank in their lives. On the other hand, we farm dwellers can, if you'll excuse the terrible pun, always sing with Bob Hope: "Tanks for the memories!"

© 1999 Robert F. Karolevitz

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