Water bowls among equipment that freezes up

“It’s the wind” that makes the cold so bad, said 63-year-old Gerald Alderink on Monday as a wind pushed frigid air through the open doors of his pole shed in rural Pease as he looked at two frozen livestock watering bowls.

Pease farmer Gerald Alderink watches as a torpedo style propane heater sends heat into frozen livestock watering bowls at his farm on Monday, Jan. 6.
Pease farmer Gerald Alderink watches as a torpedo style propane heater sends heat into frozen livestock watering bowls at his farm on Monday, Jan. 6.

The ground was frozen hard and the two watering bowls sat with a pale whitish hue, and barren of moisture, like they could have hardly been a supply of water for some time. In fact they hadn’t since sometime the night before, the cold finally doing them in.

Monday, Jan. 6, dawned with temperatures at about 22 below zero in the Princeton-Milaca area and the light wind was strong enough to make it more biting for anyone unprotected by it. Moisture in a semi-frozen state collected at the base of Alderink’s nose as he worked for much of Monday morning trying to get the Ritchie Waterers, as the ones he has are called, working again.

These automatic livestock watering bowls have an electric wire in them to try to prevent freeze-ups. But that wasn’t enough in the bitter cold that appeared at the start of the new year.

At close to noon hour on Monday, Alderink was using a skid loader to haul a torpedo propane heater to a shed to try to get it going to start the thawing job on his waterers. He hasn’t been able to light the torpedo heater and so once he got it into a maintenance shed, he started up a much larger torpedo heater and aimed it at the smaller one to bring it back to life.

He said he couldn’t use the bigger heater to thaw the water fixtures because the bigger heater was too high off the ground. The smaller torpedo heater if it worked, was low enough that it could send the heat into the right place on the water fixtures.

One of the waterers had frozen on Jan. 2, both of them froze on Jan. 4 and now both were down again on Jan. 6.

Other challenges in the cold

Jan. 1 was another challenging day for Gerald and his wife Jody at their beef operation in rural Pease, which consists of two farms about 2 1/2 miles apart. A hydraulic hose broke on one of their two skid loaders that day and so that meant the other skid loader had to be brought there to take over the work the first skid loader couldn’t do. While Gerald was driving the skid loader to get there, a tire went flat on it. Luckily, the couple had an extra tire to replace it with as there weren’t any businesses open that day to sell them a new tire.

Two days later, on Jan. 3, the diesel fuel gelled up from the cold on their John Deere tractor that they use to haul silage to their cows.

They poured an additive into the fuel tank to try to liquefy the gel but it wasn’t enough. They then used their pickup to pull the tractor from one location to another and used their biggest torpedo heater to thaw the tractor fuel line.

“It’s so cold it’s not used to that,” Jody said on Jan. 5. She noted too, that the no. 1 grade diesel fuel which is the lighter of the two grades of diesel and thus less prone to gelling, has gotten expensive.

Jody declared on Jan. 6 that she and Gerald plan to redo the water line beneath the Ritchie Waterers this coming summer because they have had so many problems with them freezing up. There is a bend in the water line and that is where it always freezes, she said.

Jody says she likes winter but says this one so far has tried her patience. She recalled one day about two weeks earlier where she felt like she couldn’t get warm enough. “That’s unusual for me,”she said.

What made this early winter so tough for people, Jody said, is that the bitter cold arrived very early. “It’s brutal.”