Water. Take a look around every paddock, every time you’re in the country, and you might not even see the water. But each paddock, each field, usually has a source of water, if not for livestock, then for crops. Under the earth and along fence lines are countless kilometres of pipe, feeding into baths and troughs, some gravity fed, some using a siphon, some connected to pumps and most work on a float valve, the kind of thing that sits in your cistern above your dunny and allows the water to run and stop before overflowing.
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30 Jan 2012 - 9:22 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Our new place, 70 acres of valley floor near Cygnet (the neighbours call it "the gully"), has plenty of water compared to many farms. Seven dams. At least three seem to be spring fed, and there’s also a winter creek. But allowing livestock down to the creek or dam isn’t the most efficient use of a resource, so we have to hook up clean, fresh sources of water in every paddock. A simple task, until you realise that pipes cost a bucket, the fat ones are a nightmare to unroll, and to bury one you need a tractor or a backhoe or some other machinery. Add in time, the expense of float valves; hole saws to drill through baths salvaged from the tip; the fact that water, by definition, is to be found at the bottom of the valley, but we need to get it out of the creek bed and dams and up to the cows, the sheep, the pigs. Without power. Without risk of it failing. And in a way that we can rotational graze our livestock to get the most from the grass, the land, the animals.

(Rotational grazing involves moving the herd quite regularly to new grass, a process that mimics the migration of grazing animals, and is believed to help improve soil depth and structure.)
 
Add in rotational grazing, which means you ideally want water in the middle of a paddock, not one corner, and you end up with a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and me with neither the skills nor the knowledge to put it all together. Water, like fencing, is one of the things non-farmers take for granted when we look at the landscape. We don’t see the time, money and effort that’s gone into creating a place where plants or animals can thrive. The lattice-like system of pipes that wrap around each property like the structure of a lung. Water, that giver of life, isn’t something to be taken lightly.

I’ve set up two siphons already. But the big picture of the farm needs big water storage and a more fail-safe system. Water pumped up to large tanks so it can be dripped onto the new orchard. Or gravity fed into a trough. Or soaked into a wallow for the pigs in summer. There are about 35 of them at the moment, and supplying clean water is a constant issue for an animal that soils its own drinking water with its muddy snout.

In the meantime, I look at my back-of-the-envelope calculations and begin to wonder how much else I don’t know about farming. What other unknowns are waiting out there for the novice. And rejoice in all the challenges of this life that we never thought we’d lead.