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Working with animals to charge up the farm

How Tambellup farmer Ken Schlueter, and his animals, are benefiting from stand-alone power

Of the things that could potentially disrupt power supply to a farm, cows were a new one.

Cows had not previously been big on the list of considerations by either farmer Ken Schlueter or Western Power. Ken Schlueter’s farming property in Tambellup has cattle, sheep, the odd horse and alpaca, and crops.

It’s also about to have two stand-alone power system (SPS) units installed that will power all the buildings on his property, plus the two electric fences he has to keep the bulls and heifers apart.

Ken thinks the SPS units “are just great,” and it turns out, so do his cows.

The cows found the partially installed (and not turned on) units, and took to rubbing up against one of the standard issue green domes which keep the unit’s associated wires safely tucked away.

“They do like to push up against things, so they rubbed up against it and knocked it over,” says Ken.

“Given rams will rub up on a tree stump or fence post, we’re going to need to find a way to keep them away as well.”

Safeguarding the green dome from becoming an animal scratching post is one of the more amusing but surmountable issues thrown up by the ongoing roll-out of SPS units across WA, with 52 units currently being installed across regional north, east and south-east WA.

It’s an issue that Ken is happy to have. After years of unreliable power supply at the end of a spur line, he’s very pleased to be getting the two SPS units, which he was quick to say yes to.

“It’s such a long line, out to our property. And sometimes when the power goes out they’re able to find the fault and fix it fast, and sometimes it can take a while to locate it. We understand that – we have much the same experience when trying to fix machinery.

“But the bigger issue for us has been the overall quality of power. The power will often flicker on and off, which means I often have to re-set the time on my electric clock and electric oven.”

Working with animals to charge up the farm

“I’d heard about these systems down in Esperance and Ravensthorpe and how well they worked, so when Western Power said they were going to do Tambellup, I thought great!”

The power supply needs on Ken’s property are two-fold. As he needs to keep the bulls and heifers apart, he has two electric fences, one either side of the river that runs through his property that need to be constantly charged.

The property also has several buildings, all to one side of the river, including the homestead, shearing shed, machinery shed, workshop, welder and a cool room.

“They couldn’t put a line through the river, so it was better to have the two units. On one side, we’ve got a smaller unit just to charge the fence on that side.

“On the other side, where the sheds and house are, we’re getting a larger system to power up pretty much everything else.”

The expectation, given previous trials, is that Ken’s property will be powered mainly by solar panels, with the batteries and back-up diesel generator kicking in during days of consecutive cloud cover.More importantly for Ken, the power supply will be better quality.

“I’m looking forward to not having to reset my alarm clock all the time.” And the cows? Ken and Western Power have come up with the idea of putting bollards around the green dome to stop the cows getting near.

“It has to be something strong to keep the cows away,” he says, “On the plus side, if we do bollards, they’ll still have something to rub against.”