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6 Winter Tricks That Keep Livestock Water From Freezing

6 Winter Tricks That Keep Livestock Water From Freezing

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During winter, the cold can cause homesteaders numerous headaches, but one that can’t be overlooked is our livestock’s need for water. Ice forms easily on exposed water tanks, buckets freeze up and crack, and fields are often far from power sources and water pumps. But don’t despair. You don’t need to spend this winter hauling water and banging ice. There is a better way!

The Ice Problem

Winter time will see cows’ and horses’ water needs increase. Animals expend more energy combatting the cold and as a result, they eat more to stay warm. With increased food intake, their water needs go up.

“Studies by the University of Alberta and Saskatchewan discovered that a mature cow needs at least 10 gallons of water a day in the winter. When the only water source available was snow, both dairy cows and beef cattle consumed less and showed marked deterioration in body condition and output. Animals that consume only snow suffer from mineral deficiencies that cause spontaneous abortions, poor vitality and impactions” (Wayne and Jerry Cook – Countryside Magazine online). Horses experience similar issues when water intake is limited, “the most common threat being impaction colic” (South Dakota University Extension, January 2013).

Try these ideas:

1. The Simplest Methods

Group water troughs together. This can form a “heat island,” especially when livestock gather. Having a number of water troughs also allows weaker animals a chance to get water without having to fight their way to the trough. Experiment to determine how much water your animals are drinking. If you fill the troughs to the amount they drink, you will have less ice buildup as the animals drink all, or most, of the water before it has a chance to freeze. Just be sure that your livestock are not receiving too little water. If the tanks are bone dry when you go to fill them, put more water in. Use common sense and check often when you first start regulating water.

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Another great farmer’s hack is to enclose the water tank partially in a well-insulated shed. This slows heat loss from the water. On really cold days you can run a small heater or lamp inside the shed and this should keep the water from freezing over. If you can’t build a shed, consider insulating your water tanks and covering much of the top of the trough. Just be sure that weaker animals are still getting a chance to drink.

If the above measures still aren’t enough to keep ice from forming, then you may want to consider several available systems. There are varying costs of money and time required, but you can select what will work best for your setup.

2. Automatic Watering Units

These units generally require larger numbers of animals to be using them to keep the water flowing and not freezing, although some units may have a continuous running water system set up. There are units with built-in heating components as well. Generally, watering units are best installed by a professional, but they work like a gem once in place.

3. Electric Tank Heaters and Deicers

6 Winter Tricks That Keep Livestock Water From Freezing

Image source: Wikimedia

There are numerous heaters for most sizes of tanks. The downside is that they require a ready supply of electricity and will fail to work once power is lost. However, they keep water above freezing quite well. Submergible heaters are the best as the animals won’t bother them as much. Look for a unit that has a built-in thermostat so that it will shut off during warmer weather and spare you extra trips to the paddock or pasture. However, be sure to check that the unit is working during colder weather and that your animals haven’t accidentally removed it.

4. Heated Buckets

Heated buckets can work well for solo animals, but they generally need to be secured to something so they aren’t ripped from their electricity source. Buckets work especially well in run-in shelters and unheated barns.

5. Propane Stock Tank Heaters

When electrical sources are an issue, propane stock tank heaters can be an excellent option. Large portable units can be placed far from buildings and always run, even when power outages may affect the rest of your operation. Be sure to check, however, that the pilot light isn’t extinguished by strong wind. Also, check fuel levels periodically.

6. Water Circulators

Water circulators don’t use heat to keep ice from forming, but rather work the same way that a stream or creek does. Moving water doesn’t freeze as fast. Circulators generally run off of batteries and you have the option of hooking the batteries up to a solar power system to recharge them. Keep in mind, though, that circulators work best with automatically filled tanks, as the circulators need to be in contact with the water to keep working.

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Keeping your livestock’s water supply at optimum levels during winter’s freezing temperatures can be intimidating, but with the options shared above, you can get started on changing this wintertime hassle to something that practically takes care of itself. Don’t be afraid to get creative if the options above don’t quite suit you.

Areas of the country often handle freezing temperatures differently and using creativity to employ the above solutions may solve your winter water problems. You just might become “that guy” who others turn to for country wisdom.

How do you keep livestock water from freezing? Share your tips in the section below:

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17 comments

  1. I heard that if you put a block of untreated wood or a rubber ball (basketball or football), works well especially in windy places, the floating object slowly circulates the water making it freeze much slower

  2. I purchased a “Bar-Bar-A” horse and cattle drinker many years ago and it has worked flawlessly even in minus 30 degrees here at my farm in Ontario. The water is shut off below the frost line so nothing ever freezes. No electricity is needed. An added benefit is that the water comes out at a pleasant 54 degrees F. regardless how cold or hot the outside temp is.

  3. I have just been breaking ice so far this winter, we don’t have any outlets to run a cord to, & some days I go out there at 6 am, 1 pm, & once more before bed just to be sure it’s open for them. I have 4 horses, & my biggest problem is the hose. My dog chewed one up. Then I thought I had one drained well enough & the next time I went to fill the tanks up, it wasn’t the case. I ended up dragging the second hose we have out of the shop, which was completely thawed & was able to use it. Now I don’t keep any out by the water tanks for fear the dog will chew another $80 hose up; I also make sure to drain it out until I have absolutely no doubt it’s drained good enough, then it goes back in the shop. Lessons learned.

  4. In addition to covering the trough, make a platform of manure, put the trough on top and pack manure around it. Manure generates heat. My troughs don’t freeze as hard now. Adding the shed around the trough is even better!

  5. We cook with wood, I hooked up copper water pipes in the fire box of our cook stove and ran the heated water to the top of the water heater which sat just behind stove. We ran a line from the bottom of the water heater to the sweat fitted copper water line going through the fire box. No the solder did not melt as long as it had water in the lines, even the steam kept the solder from melting. Having made 4 passes through the fire I had enough hot water to shave with in 15 minutes, starting with cold water in the water heater. During the day the 30 gallon water heater I was using for a storage tank got to boiling, I took off the safety valve, not having a check valve in the line the very hot water would make its way to the cold water and we never had a problem. We took 5 gallons or more out 2-3 times a day and poured it over the ice in the stock tank to melt it, not smart enough to partially fill the tank, #1 above ha ha, great idea, we just never thought about it, wanting them to have water all day. We figured out we needed two wood stoves, one in each end of the house, smaller fires, more comfort, the heating stove in the back of the house was big enough, about 30 x 30 x 30. Even at 140 in the back room, when it was really cold, 40 below and wind blowing the living room was a little uncomfortable and drafty, the bed rooms were way too hot, so we used the cook stove as a heat source and kept it running as needed in the living room/kitchen, we had more hot water than we needed. After the 30 gallon tank sprung a leak we got a glass lined 50 gallon electric water heater and put it about 15 feet from the stove in the bath room, it worked well storing more hot water and loosing heat going to it fixed the problem. I wanted electric because I did not want the chimney sucking the heat out of the water. ASIDE: We had a PLASTIC lined water heater, when the temp got up to 190 or so the pipes leaked all over, take it apart and tighten them again, after the third time I took it out going back to the glass lined tank. Sure you need to pay attention to the water to see how hot it is before you put your hands in it – or it would remind you why you do that – ha ha. At that time I didn’t even have a job, we had to make do, we did. I was gone for a while, wife not wanting to learn about the system had a valve closed on the system and it got too hot, so she quit using the cook stove, when I got back I fired it up only to have it get too hot and blow the line apart and lift the lids on the stove, someone closed the valve coming out the bottom of the water heater and it boiled all the water out of the pipes, I have not hooked it back up again. Today we have a wood fired water heater / boiler as I call it in the back room, converted to burn waste vegetable oil, yes if the fire goes out it will circulate back wards, check valve did not work well either. Most of the time I burn the boiler and let the water circulate through the base board heaters I put in a few years back, heats the whole house pretty even and all the stove we need down to 20 or so. If you decide to try this, put your hot water around the ceiling and the return at floor level back into the boiler – HEAT RISES AND COLDER WATER RUNS DOWN HILL – NO ELECTRICITY FOR THE PUMP NO PUMP, THERMAL SIPHON. You will get air in the line, you need a way to get the air out at the HIGH point in your hot water line leaving the boiler. I used a T pointing up and a valve with line going down to the bucket on my floor. If there is air in the line it will not circulate well.
    I am James Elmer 🙂

  6. Hi! Has anyone heard of using a 32 oz plastic bottle and putting water and salt in it and let it float in the water trough to keep the water broke up in the winter? I am not sure how much salt is needed in for the water to not freeze in the bottle. Does anyone know? Thank you!

    Lori O’Neal

  7. Has anyone heard of using a hot tub to keep animals watered? The water jets move the water and the temperature can be adjusted to keep the water from freezing.

  8. I made the solar boxes for the 100 gallon tanks on the coldest days I use old bleach bottles filled with hot water and place them around the bottom of the box against the black Rubbermaid tank, then surround it all with hay but keep the glass area clear , then I have about 200 small plastic balls on the top of the water and the horses get used to pushing their noses through to get to the water , thinner ice now on top.
    Now I just read you can get the heaters that are inserted at the drain plug and can be car battery operated , have 2 charge one and use one , now that is my next try when it is into the minus temps

    • How would that car battery idea work? Do you have the website where you got that from and share? Thanks. I realize this is an old thread but I’d like to resurrect it! 🙂

  9. Not a comment. .a question..i have outside kitties at my work place.
    I’ve been using a small soda bottle with table salt mixed to help keep their water from freezing.
    With the temps going down. (10) it’s not as effective.
    Could i use sidewalk salt in the bottle? And would/could it ruin the bottle?

  10. I am wondering if anyone has tried using a windmill directly attached with linkage to a swirling blade or paddle in a water tub. Does any company make these? If water is fed underground to the tub this might be a truly maintenance free system…as long as the wind blows. Thanks.

  11. Spmeone who knows horses told me to put salt and vinegar in plastic bottles and it would keep my ponies water from freezing. I didn’t think to ask how much.

  12. Hello, where I live I have no electricity. and very few animals, and none big enough to keep heat in an area. what should I do?

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