Winter is just around the corner, and for livestock owners, this often means patching up walls, inventorying the hay supply, ensuring vaccinations are up to date, and checking the insulation in the birthing/hospice area. But most of all, it means finding ways to keep a fresh water supply going amidst freezing temperatures.
Hydrating Horses with Snow
For a few livestock owners, a viable solution to the problem of winter watering is simply letting the livestock eat snow. But because 10 inches of snow is roughly equivalent to 1 inch of water, the animals must have access to large areas of snow-covered land in order to make up the difference. Eating snow can also introduce the risk of lowered body temperatures. While this is not usually an issue for large adult livestock, it certainly is for younger and smaller livestock. Also, snow does not contain the minerals found in tap water, causing livestock to suffer from mineral deficiencies if not provided with regular supplements.
Growing up, I remember waking up extra early on those dark winter mornings, bundling up in Carhartts, grabbing the axe, and venturing out into the cold to chop ice. Doing this same thing at night, the next morning and the next night, for four months. While there was nothing wrong with the tried-and-true method of chopping ice, it was very labor intensive, posed a few hazards (like flying ice which nearly blinded me on several occasions), and did not ensure a constant water supply for the livestock.
Over the years my family experimented with wrapping insulation around pipes and tanks. While it provided a quick fix in an emergency situation, wrapping pipes and tanks was not a viable permanent solution. The wrapping quickly became stripped away by frolicking animals, and it rarely kept the water completely thawed out. A certain amount of ice-chopping was necessary and we had to be especially careful when using insulation so that it was out of reach or wouldn’t hurt our horses if ingested.
Non-Integrated Tank Heaters
Non-integrated tank heaters are designed to plug into an extension cord and place in a water tank to keep water thawed all winter long. In my experience though, non-integrated heaters were more of a headache than a help. Of the tank heaters we used on the farm, not one was ever strong enough to keep a full tank thawed out; ice-chopping and/or insulated wrapping was always necessary. And with horses, who like to play and get into things, the heaters were often flipped out or unplugged. What’s more, running extension cords was inconvenient and potentially dangerous, particularly if they’d run through trafficked areas.
That said, non-integrated heaters are good solutions for smaller animals.
I have found that automatic waterers are, far and away, the best solution for winter (and year-round) watering. They are insulated and either use circulation or a heating system to keep the water fresh. You never have to worry about chopping ice, wrapping tanks, running extension cords, or bursting water pipes when you go to fill a tank in the middle of winter.
While installing an automatic waterer may seem like a hassle, the pay-off is more than worth it. My family installed its first automatic waterer over 20 years ago and it has been in use ever since. No repairs, little to no maintenance, no checking water levels, and best of all no waking up extra early to go chop ice for several hours before school!
So if you’re looking for a watering solution that will stay thawed and minimize work and hassle, invest in an automatic waterer.
A final word of advice: Install your waterers now before the ground freezes and you’re left gripping your axe, clutching your lower back, and wondering why you didn’t.
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