No matter the temperatures outside, livestock need plenty of water to be healthy. However, in the winter, the water in tanks and troughs tends to freeze, particularly overnight.
Some farmers resign themselves to refilling water for their livestock multiple times a day with warm water from the house, but this is extremely labor-intensive. Others use electricity to heat their water. However, electrical systems can fail when a storm causes a power outage, and can even lead to fires if livestock chew through the wires.
There are ways to keep your livestock’s water from freezing that are less labor-intensive than refilling water and less risky than relying on electricity. You can even make some of these solutions with objects you have around the house.
Move the Water
Sometimes, limiting freezing in your water system is as easy as moving your tanks or troughs. If you put the water in a sunny location, the heat from the sun will prevent the water from freezing. Even if your location does not get much sun in the winter, moving water to the south of the pasture will increase access to the sun. While a sheltered location may protect your livestock from rain or snow, if at least part of the water remains exposed to the sun, it will be less likely to freeze.
Moving your troughs can even help decrease freezing for your indoor water supply. If you put multiple troughs together, the heat from the livestock congregating will increase the water temperature. While this is not a foolproof method, it can decrease freezing somewhat.
Cover the Water
Covering part of the trough or tank’s surface will also decrease the risk of the water freezing, as long as you leave enough of the surface exposed for your animals to drink. Covering the surface allows the tank to retain more heat.
You don’t need a fancy cover for your water trough. Some old plywood or polystyrene foam insulation that you attach to the tank using c-clamps will get the job done. You can add extra insulation on top of the cover, such as straw or even snow, to increase the tank’s heat retention.
One of the more innovative solutions to prevent water freezing is to float something in the tank. Some farmers cover most of the surface of the tank with floats to prevent water from freezing, but even one floater is usually enough. A floating object keeps the water moving at all times, preventing it from freezing. If part of the tank does freeze, animals can break the ice themselves by pressing down on the floater.
There are special black rubber balls called “cow balls” that are made for breaking the ice in water tanks. You can buy them at a farm supply store. However, you do not need to buy special floaters, especially if you have a small tank. An old basketball or soccer ball will do, or a jug filled with salty water.
This method is not always effective, especially in colder climates. However, if you’re only dealing with a few cold snaps, adding a floater to your tank can prevent ice from forming.
Change Your Water Holder
Changing your water tank or trough for something that’s more winter-friendly can also prevent ice formation. Large tanks have a smaller chance of freezing because the water acts as an insulator.
The material your tank or trough is made of also matters. Rubber retains more heat than metal troughs, so water is less likely to freeze. Consider switching to rubber tubs for water, even if it’s just for the winter.
Surprisingly, the color of your water trough or tank also matters. Black retains more heat, particularly if your tank or trough is directly exposed to the sun. A black rubber tub is the kind of water holder that is least likely to freeze in the winter.
Insulate the Tank or Trough
Insulating your water is one highly effective way to prevent ice from forming. You can easily insulate your outdoor water troughs by burying them in a shallow hole. If the ground is too frozen to dig a hole, stacking straw or even snow around the outside also insulates the water.
Another creative way to insulate your water tanks is to put a black tire around your water container. You can usually get old tires for free if you don’t have any lying around. They are durable enough to withstand even the most aggressive animals, and retain a lot of heat because they are black and made of rubber.
Finally, you can also insulate your water by doubling up on the tanks. Put a larger, empty tub or bucket under the one you are filling with water. Then, fill in the gap between the two with foam insulation, straw, or even manure in a pinch. This will work the same way a thermos works for human beverages. The double layer will keep the water warm and prevent it from freezing.
Use Propane Heating Systems
If you live in an area that has bitterly cold winters, you may not be able to avoid installing a heating system for your livestock water. Propane is one alternative to electric heating systems. You can use propane heaters or bubblers to keep water warm. These systems will keep working even if a winter storm knocks out your power.
However, it’s best to be cautious when installing propane heating systems. A buildup of propane gas can be dangerous. You also need to monitor the propane pilot light consistently to make sure that the system is working. Propane heating systems can be more effective than the DIY methods mentioned above, but they are also more expensive and need more care to ensure they work properly.
Livestock water becoming frozen in winter is a big problem for many farmers and ranchers. However, these solutions can help decrease the risk of your water freezing. Although you may still find yourself breaking the ice occasionally after a cold snap, for the most part, your livestock will be able to enjoy fresh water no matter the temperature.