Everything you always wanted to know about the Graham Trough Mobile, but were afraid to ask.
Soft mud, sticking to the bottom of the trough, smears my work trousers. Minute traces of rock salt, absorbed through the pores of my palm, leave the faintest taste of salt in my mouth.
I’ve got a trough in one hand, a rock of pink salt and a short, damp 8×2 inch plank with the odd slug on board in the other. I walk with a lop-sided, stiff-legged gait. Progress is slow as I wade through knee high, early summer pasture paddocks waiting for their rotational grazing turn.
I’m going downhill to The Run-off Paddock – I’ll save the puffing and panting for uphill later. She’s steep at the top end of The Run-off and it’d be a pain to put the trough there and get it level – I know because I’ve done it before.
Instead I put it at the bottom of the paddock where it’s flattish. To get enough of a level to avoid spillover I still need to wedge the 8×2 plank under the front-facing curve of the round trough. There’s a bit of a knack to it: the ballcock valve needs to close completely while the water level’s still a few centimetres from the top edge.
I’ll return later in the day to check on the connections and the water level. The plank, weighted down by the water, might be in need of a strategic kick or two from my steel capped boot to reposition it to get the water at more of a level.
Trough in place, I turn my attention to the hose. Even without the load, I’m a bit out of breath by the time I’ve slogged uphill to turn the water off at the tap before moving the line. Exercising ‘on the job’ – you can’t get a better workout than that!
If the move’s over a short distance, I’ll sometimes uncouple the hose from the trough and leave the water on and spilling out. I make a mental note to stop doing that. Anything I can do to reinforce in my own mind how precious water is has to be good.
We had a good old Canterbury nor’wester mid-week with gusts of over a 100 km/hr that sent the sign on a horizontal spin. A nor’wester can suck millimetres of water from the ground in no time at all. We’re lucky, there’s no big dry this summer – but as they say – in times of plenty, prepare for famine.
Yes, be prepared, there ain’t the water there anymore – not where and when we need it most in the world. So many of us – especially those with the power to claim it – have an unquenchable thirst for it these days.
I’ve got two 50 metre lengths of 15 mm black alkathene pipe and just the one tap that I connect the pipe to.
So getting water to a cow paddock, one of eleven under this regime, involves one tap, two moveable pipes, a few connectors, a length of tanalised 8×2, and a 150 litre, round UV resistant plastic trough – oh, and a Graham or similar beast of burden.
150 litres on a ballcock, that’s plenty for my three small Dexter cows. I’ve noticed that they have a strict hierarchy and drink from it one at a time – gives the ballcock time to do some refilling between guzzlers. (A large cow would need on average about 45 litres per day.)
Empty I can easily carry the trough to wherever it needs to go.
I thought I’d have challenging maintenance issues. And I did have some in the first few months, but once those were solved, the system has worked surprisingly well.
My biggest challenge was hose connectors. I’ve managed to get by with garden hose accessories from Mitre 10. The farm supply shops don’t stock water pipe connectors that suit my improvisations! – surprise, surprise! They’re more into on-farm permanent solutions.
The plastic fittings I trialled first were useless under static pressure and after hard frosts. Leaking, splitting, popping out. Now I use good quality brass couplings on the tap and pipes, and stainless steel connectors to link the pipes together and the pipe to the tap.
The only plastic connector I still use is the one that connects the pipe to the trough. That’s all you can get for the job and that one I did have to buy from a farm supply store.
It split open after a minus 6 or so frost. Thick, densely felted strips (having a felting business at the time came in very handy), held in place with silage tape made for great lagging and I haven’t had any problems with its replacement.
The trickiest bit was figuring out a way to quickly connect and disconnect trough and pipe. The fitting was designed to be permanently threaded onto a buried underground pipe. It was a farm trough after all, intended to stay put.
I came up with the idea of permanently attaching a 1 metre length of water pipe to the ballcock fitting and then putting a brass coupling and a detachable stainless steel connector on the end to link up with the water feed pipe.
A metre was long enough to thread under a fence into an adjoining paddock so that the cows couldn’t damage the pipe or connection by stomping on it.
When I’m carrying the trough, I curve it round the ballcock housing and hold it securely under some looped twine so that it doesn’t get in the way.
I loop twine tightly round the ballcock housing because the water makes the sides splay, making it easy for cows to nudge off the detachable cover that protects the ballcock. Tut, tut – a design fault in an otherwise great product – ballcock’s worked a treat.
I have to say (in all modesty?) that it’s worked a charm!
Extracting several metres that’s got embedded at the base of long, damp, heavy pasture is not so charming. And the pipe can get all looped and tangled on itself. Once disentangled though, it’s pretty straightforward to get it to where I want it.
Thawing out pipe after a heavy frost is another not so charming aspect of the enterprise.
In winter I keep it off frozen ground as much as possible. Fed out along the top of a fence in frosty winter weather works well – it’ll have thawed out enough by mid-afternoon to refill the trough.
That’s the fair dinkum info. on the Graham Trough Mobile – it works in well with my rotational grazing system.
Oh, oh, no it’s not! Forgot to mention another DIY job that you absolutely need to get right. (Talk about self-reliance!) Get it wrong and you’ll get the couplings popping off the pipes.
They’re designed to go on garden hoses which are thin and flexible. Heavy duty black alkathene pipes are thick walled and have very little give.
What you do is taper the inner edge of the pipe with a sharp pocket knife. Then plonk the end in a flask of very hot water to expand it before pushing and winding the ridged tube into the pipe end, right up to the collar. Just like with a garden hose – make sure the outer ring that you screw over the top is already on the pipe! It’s critical that the ring is wound on as far as possible to give a vice-like hold. I use vice-grips to hold and wind at this stage.
Bingo – you’re all set to go! You needn’t have been afraid to ask after all. Think I should have patented the Graham Trough Mobile. Guess you know all about it now though – bugger!
That’s it on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully for this week. I look forward to having your company again next Monday. Bye for now.