Winter water preps is the focus of this week’s Survival Notes posts. Wow, what a winter we have had in Appalachia. We got off so easy last year all the livestock on our retreat were able to roam the pasture in search of their own food until early December and got back at it again in mid-February.
I did not have to haul water to the barnyard a single time last year. The winter of 2017-2018 has been an entirely different beast though. There is nothing like the wrath of Mother Nature to remind you that you might just not be quite as prepared as you thought you were.
It took us nearly three years to find the perfect spot for our secluded survival homesteading retreat. One of the top priorities during our land search, was water.
I found the search for the right land to be a lot like searching for the perfect man…until I found and claimed mine. We found so many parcels of land that were almost right. If I could have blended a little bit of one with a little bit of another, and a tiny sprinkling of yet a third likely candidate, I would have score the perfect prepper compound land a whole lot sooner.
But, alas, you cannot blend the best parts of either men or land together, to make the perfect fit. I think the making of lists is a prerequisite for membership in the prepper club. We made list after list of our wants and needs when searching for the perfect land. My hands ached from the number of pros and cons list we made when comparing the top three parcels we found near the end of our survival compound real estate search.
I may make my living tapping away at a computer everyday, but when it comes to list making of any type, I go old school with a little legal pad and a Ticonderoga #2 pencil.
During all of the list making, there were copious amounts of discussions about, you guessed it, the lists. We drew out our building and/or renovation plans for each property both on paper and using real estate design software. Then, we tallied up the projected costs of improving each property and once again reviewed the sustainable natural assets already present on each parcel.
Needless to say, we had done our homework before signing on the bottom line and moving onto the land a few weeks before Christmas. Water, seclusion, and the lack of accessibility to the home by potential attackers, were ultimately the deciding factors.
Our dream land came complete with a creek that ran through it that stayed full (sometimes too full!) year around, a natural spring that had been filled in, but still trickled out nicely through a ravine that ran to the creek, a deep and clean well, and a perfect spot for a large pond.
Digging began on the pond right away courtesy of the old backhoe we worked into the purchase deal along with a tractor and some other great farm implements. We purchased a small manual dipper to use to retrieve water from the well should we be without electric – and continued on with plans to get a solar powered pump for backup.
Struggling to get water was not ever going to be a concern…of so we thought. Then the deep chill and freezing rain came – and kept coming for weeks. The creek that never stopped flowing before, now had a 4-inch coating of ice on top. Our son-in-law took a pick ax to a 30-foot section of the creek to open up a drinking spot for the livestock, but the -3 temperatures we were regularly experiencing, caused the hole to once again return to ice in mere hours, even though water was still flowing beneath the ice.
The pond was a complete blanket of ice as well. I had filled every milk and pop jug I could get my hands on with salt water, tied them to a rope, and dangled them across the pond in all directions to keep the water moving, but it went ahead and froze anyway.
So, the water moving to the barnyard began. Twice a day, sometimes three times, we filled up the livestock tank I put on a trailer attached to the 4-wheeler and filled it up with 25 gallons of water – and threw in some salt water-filled jugs to try to keep the water from turning to ice for at least a half an hour to allow all the large livestock to get drinks. I also filled up jug after jug of water to haul down to the barnyard for the goats, chickens, ducks, and guineas. Floating salt water bottles in the small livestock waterers helped keep the water from turning to ice for about a half an hour as well, at least most days.
Each trip to the barnyard to take fresh water down also meant we would be spending at least 30 minutes to bust up the ice in each of the waterers and the stock tank before pouring fresh in. Did I mention it was -3 degrees? Yep, even bundled up and doing a decent amount of manual labor, we got really cold.
After weeks of this watering ritual, which as running our electric bill sky high because of all the extra well usage, we got a heat wave. It was between 40 and 60 degrees for two days. Even though the creek rose and flooded us in for a day (at least by street vehicle) and we went from slipping on ice to trudging to mud, the change in weather was AWESOME! I got a whole 48 hours without either hauling water or chipping ice – I felt like I was on vacation.
Then, the weather went back to the polar opposite of Al Gore’s global warming scenario once again – for two more weeks. During this time, the well pump AND the well bladder decided to call it quits. We had stockpiled water in the garage in case the power went out and caused us not to be able to use the well. Our big generator does a great job for all the home, garage, and butcher shops utilities, but doesn’t run the well pump.
Here we sat, in the worst winter in recent years, with an iced over creek and pond and no electric to run our well. We weren’t feeling like the best preppers on earth at this point. We had run water down to the barn in the fall, still had plenty of water to drink ,and were scooping and melting water for the barnyard on our wood stoves, but the confluence of events quickly taught us we had to step up our game to be truly prepared for a bad winter, or an off the grid winter, post-SHTF.
I would run right out today and buy the materials needed to set up a solar well pump and cross my fingers it would bet enough sun in the winter on our hilly around the house area homestead, but the massive water bill all the water hauling and well pump and well bladder replacement caused, definitely negates such a substantial purchase at the moment.
While I don’t have drought worries, unless it goes on long enough to dry up the creek, current pond and second pond going in, the deep well and natural spring that is being dug out and fully opened up again, but I am now fully focused on never, ever living through a winter like this again.
You can’t beat Mother Nature, she can be quite the mean witch when she wants to be, but you can harden yourself against her – even if it takes one expensive and frustrating winter to figure out how to do that.
Our winter water plans that will be put in place before next year include getting livestock water heaters and small portable solar generators to power them. We have two small ones that I could have run a whole of extension cords to in order to reach the barnyard, but past experience told me they would cost a lot more in electricity, than what they were worth. Investing in larger submersible tank heaters is currently being worked into our survival homesteading retreat budget – along with the portable solar generators.
We have also been talking about harnessing the power from the creek to supply off the grid energy to the barnyard. I really don’t need, or want, conventional electricity at my cool old wood barn. I don’t need it to accomplish any of my tasks, have solar lights and a headlamp to see by, and worry about fire.
I witnessed many barn fires first hand when I was the editor of the local newspaper. I watched as my hubby and his buddies ran in to save as many animals as they could, but there were always tragic losses.
The barn is a long way up and away from the creek, but I think it can be done. The hydro-power system should prevent the creek from completely getting covered in ice again and could power the livestock water tank heaters I am going to buy before the first snow fall of the coming winter.
Even with all of the expensive turmoil this harsh winter has caused us on the survival homestead, we still picked the right property. If we had purchased any of the other two nearby properties we would have been hauling a lot more water because both only had a single pond as a secondary water source to the well and as a result, had a substantially higher water bill.
Buying a piece of land is the most important decision a prepper will make. Do this wrong, and your chances of surviving a long-term disaster have been vastly reduced.
This Week’s Prepper Homework
Learning should be a life-long affair, Keep expanding your preparedness library with material that will help you hone existing survival skills and learn new ones. Don’t forget to cross-train your tribe (my favorite word to describe our mutual assistance group of family and friends) because all your great knowledge will be lost if your die or become incapacitated during a SHTF scenario.
Secret Livestock of Survival: How to Raise the 10 Best Choices for Retreat and Homestead Livestock, by my prepping mentor and best-selling author, Rick Austin, will help you find and learn how to raise, enough livestock to sustain your family and get off the “industrial food grid” even if you live on a very small survival homestead. Rick flies against the grain and firmly believes there is no need to own chickens and cows to either deny your body and taste buds what they crave, or survive a doomsday disaster.
Rick and his wife, Survivor Jane, were my go to for advice when I first got ducks and goats. Rick’s disapproving frown came through clearly, even over the phone from a few hundred miles away, when I asked for advice about one of my ducks kept trying to drown the other one and I told him I had named my ducks.
My husband was not thrilled with that fact either. But, I bought my ducks for eggs and not meat – unless the day comes when they have to be meat. At least I didn’t name our chickens…except for the first two hens I hatched.
Turns out, I didn’t have a mean duck heck-bent on trying to drown a fellow flock member. I had a male and female duck and they were mating – in a very unromantic manner, but mating all the same.
I do have livestock that Rick does not deem as essential, and he is right, they are not. But we are fortunate to have 56 acres that provides enough pasture space to make the needed hay to feed them through the winter and enough gardening space to grow the ingredients to make our own grain.
The hunting lodge turned into our home came complete with an on-site butcher shop with a walk-in cooler that can now also function off grid. If we could no longer feed all of our animals, we could butcher and preserve the food and keep only the animals we need to sustain us and provide for – never eat your breeders unless you are absolutely starving!
Even though I ignored Rick’s sound advice and keep cows and chickens because we can have the means to sustain, butcher, and preserve them, that does not mean doing so is a wise choice for everyone. If we lived on a 3 to 15 acre homestead, we definitely would not include cows in our SHTF livestock choices.
I highly recommend Rick’s book because it teachers you with step-by-step instructions, complete with detailed photos, how to get the most out of your livestock budget, how much meat to expect from your herds and flocks, how much meat your family needs to produce and maintain to survive, and perhaps most importantly, how to raise the livestock discreetly so no one knows you have meat walking around your survival retreat.