It may seem obvious to provide clean and abundant water to your livestock, especially on hot days. However, frequent attention to water sources is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. For horses, lack of water intake can cause a myriad of issues, the most common threat being impaction colic. When the weather is cold or extremely windy, livestock may not want to leave a shelter to go for a drink; they tend to eat more hay to stay warm; therefore, their water requirements may increase accordingly. Most animals (including us) are just not thrilled about drinking cold water during cold temperatures. Also, feeding alfalfa hay and providing salt blocks may increase water intake.
There are a variety of options on the market for livestock owners to keep water from freezing. These options vary in price, labor input, and efficacy. A few of the most common types are discussed below. All watering systems will benefit by placement out of the wind.
Automatic Watering Units
- Most expensive upfront cost $400+ (depends on size/does not include installation labor).
- Professional installation recommended.
- Power outages will prevent unit from working (back-up generator recommended).
- Energy-free model.
- Water bowl cover (floating ball or door that is easily opened by livestock).
- No heating system = no energy used to heat, although energy is needed to keep water supply to the unit (usually a well).
- Enough animals need to be using the unit so that the water won’t freeze
- Built-in heating component model.
- Thermostat should be set 32-34 degrees F and properly working. If set too high, the heat may unnecessarily turn on when animals drink.
Electrical Tank Heaters/Deicers
- Various sizes and models (ring, tube, cage, drain-plug, etc.).
- Least-expensive ($20+ depending on size of tank to be heated).
- Water-safe electrical heating unit is placed inside of water tank (floating or submergible).
- Submergible heaters are less-likely to be bothered by animals.
- Chew-safe cords.
- Most heaters are safe for metal tanks. Check product details for recommendations regarding plastic or rubber tanks.
- Many models have a built-in thermostat that will shut the unit off in warmer weather
- Potential hazards:
- Animals pulling out units will defeat the purpose-keep water tank full so that livestock are less likely to come into contact with unit.
- Electrical malfunctions possible (tripping the breaker, etc.).
- Power outages will prevent unit from working.