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Ice Storms; Standby Generator; Electrical System Review

This article was the 29th in a series of columns under the heading Observations from the Pasture in the GALA Newsletter. It was originally published in December 2004

Ice Storms

We recently had a mixed precipitation winter storm where we ended up with just under ½ inch of ice on top of snow. Looking out at the pasture I noticed that some of our llamas were having significant difficulty moving around. If they were having difficulty, it was obvious that their two legged caretakers would also have problems. It was time to take out the STABILicers. They attach to your footwear with Velcro straps. The bottoms are studded allowing you to walk safely on the ice. We acquired ours from LL Bean a number of years ago. I checked the Internet as I was writing this and found that STABILicers are now available from a number of sources. Even if ice storms are rare in your area, you should consider acquiring this or similar gear. Your lamas will be happier if you remain hale and hearty.

Editor's Note. April 2010: In checking I found that there are now several different versions. Ours are the ice cleats.

Standby Generator

Ice storms and downed power lines frequently come together. Eighteen months ago I mentioned in this column that we would be looking at standby generators so that we could assure that we could provide water to our llamas in the event of a protracted power outage. We first looked at automatic systems but soon concluded that the cost was prohibitive. We had other farm maintenance priorities that would be compromised if we invested in an automatic system. Amongst those priorities was a total farm review of our electrical systems. As part of that process we reviewed with our electrician our backup power requirements. He installed manual transfer switches for the circuits we considered essential, e.g., water pump, heating system, refrigeration, barn and limited lighting and kitchen facilities. Forms are available on the Internet for estimating your electrical requirements. Using one of these forms I estimated that 7,500 watts would more than adequately meet our needs. If you have a generator or plan on acquiring one, you should review the manufacturer’s instructions on periodic running of the generator under load. To prevent loss of residual magnetism and to protect against corrosion it is necessary to run the generator under load every 30 – 60 days. Failure to do so may lead to expensive damage to your generator. I have a tickler on my computer to remind me run the generator every fourth Sunday. It is recommended that you not run sensitive electronic equipment when under generator power because of the possibility of power spikes. I have connected our television and sound system to a battery powered backup uninterruptible power supply (UPS), the same type of UPS with which you would protect your computer equipment. The UPS should protect the equipment if we inadvertently have left it on when we connect the generator. A side benefit is that we have noticed an improvement in the quality of the television picture now that our TV is on filtered and stabilized power.

Editor's Note, April 2010: Since this article was written we have had a number of extended power outages due to an increasing frequency of violent storms. After the most recent extended outage we took another look at automatic standby generators. We found that the cost has come down and have installed a propane fueled 10,000 watt automatic standby generator.

Electrical System Review

Our house was built in 1748 and has had a number of renovations since then. While we were adding a three season room to the house and replacing the metal roofing on our barn and shelters we encountered some “flakiness” in our electrical systems. We were overdue for an electrical system review. We installed a ground-fault-interrupt (GFI) in our barn. We also replaced the incandescent lighting in our barn and vet room with high intensity fluorescent lighting. We were concerned that the incandescent lighting was a fire hazard in our very old barn. The high intensity fluorescent lighting is rated to start down to 20 degrees below zero. Not only have we eliminated a fire hazard we have greatly increased the amount of light we have available in our barn.