Special to the Tribune-Star
It was a mild fall night as the sun was setting in northern Vigo County. A crowd of curious cows mooed off in the distance as I approached the fence that surrounds the pasture they graze. Out on the open country roads, I met up with 59-year old Donald Hooker. Hooker has been raising cattle in these parts since he was in his teens.
“You see electricity stops right over there, at that house, and it does not come down this road,” Hooker said as he pointed off in the distance.
No electricity means the lack of being able to use it to automatically dispense food and water for his cattle. It is a common problem throughout rural Texas, so much so, that Hooker stumbled across an article in one of his farm magazines about what one rancher was doing to sustainably supply water to his cattle.
“I have been trying to figure out a better way to water my cows,” Hooker said.
He followed the advice from the Texan, and installed a solar panel out in his pasture to pump water out of the ground for the cattle to drink from. In the past Hooker had dug a hole, filled it with water from a 425-gallon tank that he would haul from his personal property, after filling it up with a hose. Then he would haul the water to the hole and drive back. During hot summer days, his cows would drink the 425-gallon tank up in one day. It became a costly, time-consuming task for Hooker. In addition, when the water would get low, his cattle would walk down into it and come out all muddy.
His quest for how to go about installing a solar panel led him to the Vigo County Soil and Water Conservation office. It offers voluntary programs to eligible landowners and agricultural producers to provide financial and technical assistance to help manage natural resources in a sustainable manner. Through these programs the agency approves contracts to provide financial assistance to help plan and implement conservation.
“We were able to share some of the cost for the pump that would flow water into a water tank that would supply water for his livestock as well as putting some fencing around the pump area to protect the pump,” said USDA District Conservationist Eddy Adams.
Extending power out to the pasture was never an option, because of the cost. Before using solar, in late summer Hooker would have to bring his cattle closer to home where there was electricity because the water supply would dry out too quickly.
“Even in this drought, I never had a problem. I kept thinking I would come over to the drinking area and it would be dried up, but I got lucky,” Hooker said.
The solar panel also helps to provide a cleaner, cooler source of water for his cattle. Formerly, the water would bake out in the sun and be mixed with dirt. Now his biggest worry has been to skim algae off the top on occasion.
“It is hard guessing how well something works by talking to a guy in Texas. It wasn’t like I could go over to Tom or Bill and say, ‘How do you like it?’ Knowing now how well it works I would have installed this ‘way back when,’” said Hooker.
Now that winter is in full swing, Hooker has to take the panel inside to protect it from the brutally cold weather conditions. The life expectancy of his solar panel is 10 to 15 years.
“We try to encourage land owners, land managers to utilize their resources within their capabilities,” Adams said.
To contact the Vigo County Soil and Water Conservation office, call 812-232-0193 ext. 3.
Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.