We came out to the barn on a cold December day to a huge mess: The cows’ waterer was broken. Water was flooding the barn and icing over.
The waterer had a trough on top that filled automatically as the cows drank. Something had damaged the trough so that the incoming water was spilling onto the floor instead of filling the water tank.
My dad cussed. It was the third time in a week, and the waterer was essential. No tank was big enough to provide for our 80 cows, so we needed a system that would keep a constant flow whenever the cows needed water. Each cow easily could drink 30 gallons of water a day.
We had posts and boards around the sides to avoid the damage that usually comes from cows tussling and pushing, but none of that kind of damage seemed to be the problem.
The next day was the start of my Christmas break, and we came out to find the waterer broken again. Dad was furious.
“I want you to sit in the loft and watch until we can find out what the devil is happening,” he told me.
After chores, I got a book and settled in to my task. The cows hung around the waterer like gossiping employees at a water cooler. They rustled now and then, but I had nothing to report when Dad came home from work.
I reminded him that the damage always seemed to occur at night, and I decided I’d take watch again after supper.
Most of the cows had bedded down by the time I got back. Soon, even the stragglers headed to bed.
I had been there for about two hours and not one cow had even taken a drink for the last half-hour. As I was about to leave, our bull approached the waterer. Much to my surprise, he didn’t drink.
I couldn’t believe my eyes and watched for another 10 minutes to make sure I saw what I thought I was seeing. I slid from the loft and rushed to the house. Everyone was already in bed when I burst in.
“I know what the problem is,” I yelled. “Once the cows are bedded down for the night they don’t drink anymore. Without cold water flowing in, the heater on the trough that keeps it from freezing heats the water to lukewarm.”
“That’s true,” my dad said. “But what’s that got to do with the broken waterer?”
I suddenly realized I was about to sound pretty stupid.
“I think maybe you ought to come see this for yourself,” I said.
Dad and a couple of my curious brothers followed me to the loft. I hoped the bull would still be there and he was. My dad took it all in for a moment and then finally spoke.
“You’re right,” he said. “If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Our 2½-ton bull stood with his eyes dreamily closed, his front hooves in the trough, letting the warm water swirl around his feet.
The mystery was solved. Our bull was using the waterer as his own personal foot spa.