November 1, 2017

The Perfect Water System – Or Not

By Deb Thieman

Installing the “perfect” automatic water system in our pasture was an important goal for us at Prairie Ridge Buffalo Ranch. We wanted one that would not freeze in the winter and would be low maintenance throughout the year.

The “perfect” system

After several months of searching, we thought we had found the perfect system. We discovered a company that cuts tire tanks from large rubber tires with four 12″ by 15″ openings in the sidewalls. Those openings were then lined, so air could not flow into the tank. Placing a cap over the center hole made a sealed tank that worked like a cistern. An underground pipeline on a float maintained the water level. Indeed, this system worked great. We never had to break ice all winter long, and the animals had plenty to drink.

One cow, one missing calf

Then came spring and our buffalo cows began calving. Ray observed a cow with a missing calf hanging around the water tank. He drove by the tank but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. He assumed the cow had lost her calf in the pasture. Later that evening as we watched our grandsons play baseball, Ray told me about the cow missing her calf.

When we arrived home, I immediately went to check on the cow. She was standing in the corner of the pasture staring at our house like she was waiting for us when we pulled in the drive. She ran to the water tank as soon I drove in the pasture. The cow would not leave the tank, and I knew that something was definitely wrong. I thought the calf had probably drowned in the tank, and the cow knew its calf was still in there. However, I wondered how a 40 pound calf could fit through such a small opening.

Quickly, I climbed on the tire and began looking in the four openings as the cow circled the tank. Both the cow and I were making a lot of grunting noises. I was hoping that if the calf was alive, it would answer back. Suddenly, I heard an anxious grunt responding to us from inside the tank. I was so relieved to know that the calf was alive and quickly drove back to the house to find Ray. Ray and I rushed back to the pasture.

Careful remediation

Cautiously, I moved the cow out of the pasture and shut the gate; knowing then we could grab the calf out of the tank without interference from its mother. Ray removed the tire cover by cutting the latches. We drug the cover off, and the calf popped up out of the water. It was completely soaked! Quickly, I grabbed the calf’s front legs to pull it out of the water tank. The young calf darted through the fence and began to nurse its mother. How the calf got through that 12″ by 15″ opening will always be a mystery to me.

After the fact, I concluded the herd must have crowded around the tank and pushed the calf into one of the four small openings. Ray decided to leave the tire cover off the center of the tank to allow us to better observe if a calf were to fall in again.

The next afternoon our daughter and grandsons were driving by our pasture. Once again a cow was frantically circling the tire water tank. We had told them the calf experience from the day before, so they knew they had better check things out. This time a calf had fallen into the tire tank through the center hole, and had its head stuck in one of the 12″ by 15″ openings. One of the boys stripped down to his underwear and jumped into the tank. The brothers pulled the calf’s head out of the opening and then lifted the calf out of the tank.

Lesson learned

The next morning we moved the herd to another pasture. The tank in that pasture is the old steel, bottomless kind. It is a tank that I know my calves can jump out of if they get knocked into it. It is also one that has more space for the animals to drink from when they are crowding around it. The two calves, which are now named “Soggy” and “Survivor,” are both healthy and doing great! I know a few things because I have seen a few things, and this one is to be added to the list in buffalo ranching experiences. The “perfect” tank may not always be the “perfect” tank.

Editor’s Note: If you are a bison rancher and have a story to share that might help another rancher, please contact us and let us know!