Pic courtesy of watchonlinecartoons
It’s stinking hot, we’ve finally got the cows over to the dairy after an “exceptional” road crossing (“exceptional” is when you have two cars forcing their way through the herd at once in different directions, while a flashing fire truck appears over the crest). Then, with just 16 of the 255 cows heading out into the paddock, the machines fall off.
Wayne – who started life as a fitter, turner and boilermaker – is uncontactable at the little man’s swimming lesson an hour up the road. It’s down to Clarkie and me. Running out of ideas, Clarkie is changing the belts that power the vacuum pump. I am looking for vacuum leaks. There’s one at the milk receival can but not enough to cause a total failure.
Standing under the sprinklers in 33 degree heat and udders bulging with milk, the cows wait.
We start the pump again and realise that no water is coming out of the water exhaust. The pump is hot. Too hot. Have we cooked it? Pumps like these cost thousands and, without it, there will be no milking tonight or in the morning. Sweat trickles down my neck.
Brushing cobwebs aside, I look for the water inlet. There’s a rubber hose leading from a water-filled drum. It comes off easily and the elbow connecting it to the pump is full of goo. My spirits lift as I pick the slime out with my little finger. Clarkie digs into the port of the pump. A massive slug comes out. Could this be the answer?
We put it all back together again and press the start button. Only a few pitiful drips of water come out. Still no vacuum. The cows wait. I brush the sweat out of my eyes with a now filthy T-shirt.
The people we bought it from have folded so I reach for Dr Google. The pump is a “Flomax” water ring and, to my massive relief, the vacuum pump expert at Dynapump answers the phone! It turns out Dynapump does not make our pump but I have found not only an expert but a gentleman in Andrew, who offers to help with advice if I can text him a photo.
At the same time, Wayne finally answers his phone and tells us to prime the pump with water but not to put it down the exhaust.
“There must be a tap or a plug on it. You could damage it if you put it down the exhaust.”
We can’t see any way to add water, so Wayne gets a contact of his own, John, to call. But John is an hour away, at least. He suggests having another go at the pump with a long piece of wire. I do. Still nothing and this time, the pump begins to growl.
It’s 5.30pm. The cows have been waiting in the yard for an hour and a half. I make another call to Wayne and talk to him about sending the cows back to the paddock and letting Clarkie go home. My heart is in my boots.
Andrew of Dynapump rings back. Our water tank is too low to flood the pump. It has to have a water level at the same height as the shaft to make the pump seal so it can generate vacuum, otherwise it needs vacuum to draw in the water. We have a Catch 22.
There is only one way to get water into this pump and it involves a hacksaw. Clarkie and I nod and compare our weapons. His is sharper and in no time, we are pouring water into the exhaust. Yeah, there is a risk we could damage the shaft if we put too much water in but the belts should slip enough to protect it.
A roll of duct tape later and we’re ready to press start one last time. With an almighty cough, the pump springs into action. Just the hint of a grin spreads across Clarkie’s tanned face and he says: “We’re a bit clever, aren’t we?”.
Wayne and Clarkie are down there now milking together. I stink of sweat, cow and grime but I am one very grateful farmer. A breakdown like this is tough on the farmer and worse for our ladies. A huge thank you to Andrew of Dynapump for answering a milk maid’s desperate call that would have been much easier to dismiss as someone else’s problem.