About this time last year, I noticed the ‘lifestyle block to-do’ guides were suggesting we clean our water troughs.

Being total newbies, we didn’t know what we were doing. We got one (of three) cleaned, decided it was hard, and that the others looked ok.

Over summer, we learned exactly why we needed to clean our troughs in spring. One of the troughs we’d dubbed ‘ok’ sprang an algae bloom right in the middle of a drought and water ban (pictured above).

We cleaned it, but delayed refilling. Turns out, taking out a trough that serves 2 of your 5 paddocks causes a whole lot of issues with grazing rotations that we still haven’t quite sorted out yet.

The trough we did clean had no problems whatsoever. So the rule now is: on the first days of the season that you feel like swimming, go clean the troughs.

Labour weekend was that magic moment. Where every particle of me wants to float in clear fresh water under the dappled shade of the trees (I grew up swimming in lakes and streams more than the ocean). We managed to clean two troughs.

Don’t be fooled

When we got to the trough we had problems with last year, Richard actually said to me “ah, it looks ok”. I just replied “yeah, but we know it’s not”, and got scooping.

It’s true that when you start bucketing out clear water you think ‘why am I doing this?”, but soon enough, you stir up enough debris that the water is utterly brown. You start to see the slime on the walls. And you think ‘that’s why I’m doing this’.

I mean, I genuinely want my cows to have a good life. I want to be producing quality beef from healthy and happy livestock. And clean water is part of that. The least I can do is give their troughs a scrub each spring.

How to clean a trough

The first step is to lift the ballcock up and restrain it. This prevents new water coming in as you’re scooping the old water out. The fastest way we’ve found to do it is with a bungy cord.

tying up a ballcock

Then we get scooping with a bucket. We’ve tried to use a syphon and a pump, but it leaves you with more of the muck and silt at the bottom to scrub off.

A bucket stirs it all up and hiffs it right out. If you don’t mind getting a bit wet (and this is why we do it on ‘swimming days’), and you figure out a rhythm, it doesn’t take long at all.

We use a stiff broom to give it all a good scrub, starting from about half-full. It stirs up the sediment, and removes the gunk from the walls. Then we keep bucketing until it makes no more sense to bucket.

Sweeping the water into a waiting bucket has proven effective in removing most of the last 10%. And a brush and pan picks up the rest. Getting to a fully empty and scrubbed trough takes two of us about 30 minutes. It’s really not that hard.

dirty trough
Empty trough

The third trough

We have a third trough. Well, half of it. The other half is on next-door’s property. We’ve never cleaned this trough because it’s an ecosystem.

It contains green and golden bell frog tadpoles and red pond weed. Both are introduced species, but the truth is… we don’t want to clean this trough. Our cows don’t use it much and it’s kind of freaking awesome.

Frog with its tadpole tail

At the moment, the tadpoles are very small. But we go out there occasionally to see the tadpoles/frogs and it’s never not cool. The photo above was taken in January 2020.

Our neighbour doesn’t seem bothered by it, and the water is always crystal clear. So until we need to use it more regularly, we’ll probably let the ecosystem continue.

Just do it

I’m really happy that our troughs are cleaned for the year. If you happen to have recently acquired a lifestyle block and this isn’t on your to-do list right now, don’t do what we did. Make it a priority: there’s a reason it pops up on the monthly guides.

We don’t use any fancy chemicals or machinery: just some buckets, brushes, and about 30 minutes of moderate exercise. It gets the job done and stops some pretty big headaches during the hottest days of summer.

Next on our lifestyle-block to-do list is fence maintenance. Cleaning the troughs was much easier than that will be!