We came out to the barn on that cold January morning to find the cows' waterer broken, the water flooding the barn and icing over. It was a huge mess.
My dad cussed. "Not again! This is the third time this week!"
The waterer had a small trough on the top of it that filled automatically as the cows drank. A waterer was essential since no tank was big enough to hold the water needed for the 80 cows in our herd. Each cow could easily drink 30 gallons per day.
"What I can't understand," my dad continued, "is how it keeps getting broken. Usually there would be dents on the outside from the cows banging it, but the trough is always busted downward from the top."
We had put all sorts of posts and boards around the sides to avoid the damage that usually comes from cows bunting and pushing. But Dad was right; none of that kind of damage ever seemed to be the problem.
The next day was the first day of Christmas break, and we came out to find the waterer broken again. My dad was furious. "I want you to sit in the loft and watch until we can find out what the devil is happening!"
After chores, I got myself a book, and settled in to my assigned task. The cows hung around the waterer like gossiping employees around a water cooler. They bunted and tussled now and then, but nothing of any consequence happened. When Dad came home from work, I had nothing to report.
I reminded him that, after all, the damage always seemed to occur at night. I told him that after supper I would take up my watch again.
He agreed, but told me not to stay so long I didn't get at least a fair night's sleep. As most everyone else headed off to bed, I went to the barn and took up my former position. Most of the cows had laid down for the night, but a few were just finishing eating. Some of them came and drank, but even they were soon bedded down.
When I had been there for about two hours, and nothing had even taken a drink for the last half hour, I decided to give up. I had just stood to leave when our bull approached the waterer. Much to my surprise, he didn't drink, but what he did made me gasp. I couldn't believe my eyes and watched for another ten minutes to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. When I was positive, I slid from the loft and rushed to the house.
Almost everyone was in bed when I burst in. "I know what the problem is!"
I took a minute to catch my breath, and then I started to explain. "Once the cows are bedded down for the night, they aren't drinking anymore. Without cold water continually flowing in, the heater on the trough that keeps it from freezing heats the water to a lukewarm."
I stopped, and my dad prodded me. "That's true, but what has that got to do with the broken waterer?"
I suddenly realized how stupid what I was about to say was going to sound. "I think maybe you ought to come see this for yourself."
My dad put on his coat, and a few of my brothers, who were still awake and were curious, came along. We traipsed out to the barn, and climbed to my previous position in the loft. I hoped the bull would still be there, and was grateful to find that he was.
My dad took it all in for a few minutes, and then finally spoke. "You're right. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it."
Our two-and-a-half ton bull stood with his eyes dreamily closed, his front hooves in the waterer, letting the warm water swirl around his feet.
The mystery was solved; our bull had been using the waterer as his own personal foot spa.