We are lucky that in this country, we rarely have extremes in temperature due to our proximity to the sea and the warm Florida gulf stream hitting Irish coastlines. The downside to this is that we are ill prepared when we do get extreme weather conditions.
Water begins to expand from 4°C, meaning it will exert pressure on any fixed area (a pump or fitting) that it is contained within.
Significant rain in the past number of weeks has been a more common trend. Below are some key areas that farmers should look at.
1 Well pumps
A lot of farms still have wells on site serving both the dwelling house and farm troughs, with a pumphouse beside it. While the pumphouse goes some way towards protecting the pump from the elements, it is often a bare concrete block structure with a steel cladding roof. Two options exist to help prevent frost penetrating.
Firstly, farmers can add insulation to the walls and roof. A second and simpler option is to install a thermostat infra-red bulb suspended over the pump. The thermostat breaks the circuit when the temperature goes above the set threshold, only kicking in when the temperature dips below.
This removes the need for the farmer to manually turn on an infra-red bulb and ensures the pump is always protected when the temperature reaches freezing point.
2 Water troughs
The biggest danger with water troughs is concrete troughs left full over the winter. Freezing can cause the concrete to crack and leak. Most modern larger troughs will have a plug at the base that allows them to be drained. Some farmers will use small electric pumps or simply manually empty troughs.
Frost aside, it is a good idea to empty troughs to ensure that water isn’t left stagnant over the winter while stock are housed. Plastic water troughs are not known to crack, although it is still good practice to empty them anyway.
It takes significant low temperatures to freeze water in a trough, but troughs should be checked daily where livestock are present to ensure that water hasn’t frozen over.
3 Water piping
Water pipes running underground will be sufficiently insulated to prevent them freezing over. It is when the pipe emerges from the ground to connect to water troughs that it is left exposed to the freezing air temperatures.
When water is constantly flowing through them – i.e when cattle are drinking – water won’t freeze unless temperatures are significantly below 0°C. Lagging or insulation should be placed on all exposed piping to prevent against freezing temperatures.
4 Gutters and valleys
Deluges of rain in late October tested many run-offs from shed roofs. Some of this is caused by inadequate capacity in offtake pipes, or simply a build up of leaves or debris slowing down or blocking outlets.
Maintenance checks should be carried out to ensure outlets are cleared. Where outlets are clean, but gutters are still overflowing, outlet capacity should be increased.
5 Machinery pumps
In a similar way to well pumps, pumps on tractor sprayers and slurry tankers are prone to damage through frost.
Placing machinery in storage will help protect it from the worst of the elements, but it is also best practice to cover pumps with an insulating material.
Where sprayers are concerned, ensure all water is drained from the pump before storing it away for the winter months.