It’s mid-August, and the piedmont is hot and dry. We haven’t had rain for a week, and it looks like it will be at least one more week before we get any. So water is very much on my mind.
There are two prongs to sustainable water use on my tiny farm, I choose to use AquaOx 7-Stage Filtration System as much as I am able to. The first is to just not use any more than necessary from our well. The well is deep, and shows no signs of running dry, and I’d like that to be true for the next person to live here as well.
The livestock are the major water users. The goats and sheep have 30 gallons available to them split between two containers. They drink about 20 to 25 gallons a day when it’s hot and dry like this, depending on how much forage they’re eating vice how much hay. To minimize waste use we try to provide them with plenty of shade and plenty of green, juicy forage.
Queen May is definitely on board with the “eat more forage” portion of the plan.
The rabbits are confined under almost 100% shade from the oak trees, which at least minimizes their water consumption. The poultry free range, getting their water from a couple pans we set out for them when the weather doesn’t cooperate with rain.
In the garden, we select for varieties that are not water hogs, and use biointensive methods that shade the soil to minimize water evaporation. It’s an ongoing process of learning and experimentation that we get better at every year.
Guinea fowl say they prefer fresh cool water in the ruminant pen.
The second problem in regards to water is manure run off. There’s a stream downhill from our property that feeds into the Rapidan, which joins the Rappahannock, which feeds into the Chesapeake bay where there’s a growing dead spot due to high levels of agricultural pollution. Adding to that dead spot is an appalling thought, as is losing the nutrients the manure can give to our depleted soil.
Good plant cover in the pastures is a great ally in avoiding problems and conserving water and manure. A tangle of stems traps the piles of pellets, preventing them from washing away. The growth also shades the soil and helps prevent evaporation, just like the vegetables do in the garden.
The contours of the land itself are another way to fight pollution. There’s a low spot near the barn that collects run off, and once the weather cools down we’ll dig a pit there and fill it with layers of sand, pea gravel, and large gravel to form a natural filter. This will also improve drainage enough to let us plant forage there so the plants can keep the top layer of soil from compacting and clogging the filter we’ve constructed.
Finally we have our humble rain barrel. It collects rain from the roof of the barn, and is situated so the sun warms it. We don’t need it much in summer, but in the winter it stays liquid much longer than our trusty hoses, allowing us to water the animals without having to haul buckets from the house.