Dear Aggie: How do farmers keep their livestock’s water from freezing during winter?
Answer: If your water trough is outside for your animals to access, a simple first step is to make sure you place the trough in a spot with optimal sun exposure. This can help your water trough from freezing to an extreme degree, as the sun can help melt ice and slightly heat your water.
Insulating your water trough will also help keep the exterior cold and the interior warm. An alternative is to bury your water trough into the ground. Let the ground work as a natural insulator. If your waterer doesn’t have a float — install one. This will help conserve water and prevent it from running over the tub turning the surrounding ground into a skating rink.
Manually, but safely, breaking the ice is a heat-free way to break the ice. Although cost effective, this is also labor intensive. Another similar example is pouring buckets of warm-hot water into the water trough to melt away the ice. These are both quick-fix approaches, but do not offer a preventative measure. This may not be the most practical implementation for everyone.
There are a few options to heat your waterers. If you decide to use a battery, electric or propane water-heating element, be sure to install it safely. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, keep all cables out of the way and have no connections near the water. You may want to consider having a lid on the trough. A lid will keep the heat in and prevent livestock from accessing the heating element. The heat of a sinking de-icer (heater) can damage some plastic/Rubbermaid type water vats. A floating de-icer may be a better solution. Heated water vats also are available too.
Electricity + water + animals = a possible recipe for disaster. Watch for signs of stray voltage in the waterers. Livestock will often give you a sign when something is wrong or out of the ordinary. Depending on the severity of stray voltage, livestock may wince or jump while attempting to drink, avoid the water trough completely, become more vocal or seek other water sources. If this occurs, shut off the power to the heating source immediately and contact a professional to repair the water vat.
Regardless of what methods you decide to use, you should check the water at least twice a day to ensure adequate availability for your livestock during the cold weather. Providing your livestock with a clean water source is critical, regardless of the season. You will see the best performance, health and wellbeing from your livestock, and it’s the right thing to do.