Thursday, December 15, 2011

The art and science of watering livestock in winter

If you're a horsekeeper and you live in a place where winter temperatures drop below freezing, then I would be willing to bet that your least favorite chore this time of year is watering. Dealing with the ice, the hose, the frozen hands... I shiver at the thought. I happened to be chatting with a reader this week about this very subject and she suggested I should blog about it. Hi, Sue in Montana!  In the years I've been horsekeeping in winter, I've learned a few tricks that have helped make this chore less onerous for me. I thought I'd share them with you today. If you've got any winter watering tips to add, feel free to shout' em out in the comments!

Location, location, location. Having a frost-free water source in close proximity to your water trough is a life-saver.
Having water-obsessed chickens to keep you entertained while you fill your troughs is a bonus.
It's also important to wear insulated gloves while using a hose in winter. Do as I say, not as I do.
Here I'm wearing my camera-using mittens, so my hose-hand is freezing. The sacrifices we bloggers must make...

I'm not sure what these hose-end valve things are called,
but I find they work better than nozzles year 'round for filling troughs.

The shorter the hose, the better – so very easy to drain.

Dad always says to use the right tool for the job. I've found that a hammer works best for breaking ice.
Here are some things that I've learned do not work as well: plastic manure forks, fists, pointy-toed boots.

It's best to do all watering during the warmest and sunniest part of the day.
You're more likely to have help.

Once all troughs, pails, and bowls are topped off, disconnect the hose.
Make it a habit and don't ever forget to do it. If you fail to properly drain the hose and the hose freezes to the spigot,
you will still be able to use the spigot to fill a pail and top off your troughs the hard way.

During the winter, I do not roll up my long hose. Instead, I take it for a walk and stretch it out to drain.
Eugenia and Minnie always accompany me. Have I mentioned my chickens are obsessed with water?

The yard slopes just enough to allow the hose to drain reasonably well via gravity.

When I know the overnight temperatures will drop really low, I take extra precautions to make sure the hose is completely drained.
This involves going back to the point of origin, raising the hose high above my head,
then slowly "walking the hose" until I reach the end.

When I get to the end, I can count on the chickens being there to supervise as the water drains.

Once the hose is disconnected and drained, I always cover the handle of the frost-free with a pail.
Freezing rain and snow can render the handle inoperable unless it's protected. (But if you forget this step,
I've found that a dishrag soaked in hot water, then wrapped around the handle, will thaw it out pretty quickly.)

 Access to fresh water in winter is crucial to an equine's health, so seeing my herd
slurping up the fruits of my labor makes me forget the freezing fingers.

p.s. This post came about because of a reader's comment. I am always looking for things to write about 
and your suggestions are most welcome. Leave them in the comments or send me an e-mail. Thanks!


  1. Hey Linda: Thanks for the great made me remember to remind my son to water the horses at home. He's 12 and he sometimes (often, frequently) forgets >:(

    I found all your tips helpful for life in Ontario Canada, although today we are supposed to be in the high 40's which is just downright balmy for this time of year!!! I wouldn't complain but it's raining, yet again, and my paddocks go from being frozen quagmires to muddy quagmires, sigh.....

  2. Those chickens of yours are applying the scientific method to figure out how water emerges from the end of that hose contraption. That last photo of them watching the water drain shows how serious they are about collecting data. I see a dissertation in their near future.

  3. I don't have horses, but this is just as informational! I normally have to tuck my water bucket inside to water my goat, but maybe I can try something different!

  4. This city slicker thanks you for the lesson in watering in the winter.....thankfully there are none of those pesky rattle'ing snakes to bother you in the cold weather eh!

  5. Thanks for the water tour. I'm interested in hearing about your new stall flooring and whether the animals have learned to keep their area clean.

  6. How come you don't use stock tank heaters?

  7. I have discovered the joy of a heated water hose. It is pricey at $179.00 for 60 feet, but sure does beat not having to worry about frozen hoses and lugging buckets of water to the troughs. It does require having an GFCI outlet within 6 ft. of the water source, has a thermostat so it shuts off above freezing, or you can just plug it in 20 mins. prior to use to thaw. Between that and trough heaters, our horses always have frozen-free water.

  8. I was wondering the same thing as the Crazysheeplady- I see you have a heated bucket, but you can get stock tank heaters- either floating type or sinking type- for the bigger tanks. I use the sinking ones, and opt to use an 80 gallon tank so I don't have to fill up as often. No breaking ice, and only have to fill up about every 4 days.

  9. I thought you had a heated stock tank.
    This city person wonders how often you put feed out for the gang and if you have to brush the burros coats at all or if they are self-grooming.

  10. Who would have thought chickens would be so obsessed with hoses and water? I love how carefully they are watching every move. Perhaps, in time, they will be able to take over the job for you.

  11. Wise words (and lessons learned the hard way, I'm sure). The chickens had me giggling the whole way through. :)

  12. I'm right there with you. I like your tip about putting a pail over the spigot handle. I'll have to try that --

  13. Your helpers look like they take their job very seriously. Good water tips. We have heated automatic waterers in our barn and I love them...until they fail. Just had a repairman out today because the heating element on one of them stopped working and the delivery pipe is frozen. A new heater is on order. I just hope the pipe didn't break. We're still too cold for any thawing to occur.

  14. Chickens are such good helpers. They always have an opinion. :) Glad you're getting help with the water situation.
    On another subject, How is Hank feeling today? Did you have to bute him overnight?

  15. CeeCee, Hank is feeling fine. Go figure. No need for extra pain meds. Thanks for asking.

  16. Hmmm, now there's another plus to not having my horses at home these days: I don't have to worry about this. But when they were here, the trough was close enough to the house that we used a heater.

  17. only you could make watering equines in the freezing cold funny! you are too clever;

    and I think I speak for all, you could post a pic of burlap and it would be interesting.....

  18. My husband made me an insulated box to keep over our faucet... I keep a short RV hose in there, and a trouble light connected to a thermocube outlet(so the light comes on to keep the inside of the box--and the hose--warm). It works great, except for he didn't consider that the box lid really needed to be inset so we have a good seal. So I have an old bedspread (carefully folded) that I use as a "seal" to help keep the heat in the box. Hey, whatever works~!

    I've read that horses will drink more in the winter if their water isn't ice cold, so I use a sinking tank heater (the goldfish that live in the stock tank very much appreciate this). My chickens are always on hand whenever I dump out water as well...what is it with those ladies and water, anyway? :)

  19. We have the gutters on our steel-roofed barn draining into our water tanks. Snowmelt in the winter becomes water in my tanks, as does rain, of course. Keeps the water hauling to a minimum. Timers on the tank heaters keep us out of the poor-house. Those big heaters are expensive to run. Handyman came up with the plan, to run the gutters into the tanks. It's a GREAT idea!

  20. I have one hen and three henitas for the first time over winter. I have a snappy little dripper set up for above freezing, but Connecticut can present winter from time to time. I have no in ground water outside the house and the ladies don't wear diapers, so it is totin' hot water for me. I am contemplating one of those heated dog bowls if I can get the conduit out for the extension cord!

    Here is my set up. The boxes will be parked up by the house with insulation around them to keep them close so that Ol' Farmer Barb doesn't fall on her kiester again this year trying to go down the slope in the ice. Can you give me any suggestions about keeping their water warm enough?

  21. From past experience, one of my "have-to-haves" when we built this place was plenty of frost free hydrants: two inside the barn (which were outside in the paddocks, when we only had half-a-barn), and three in fencelines between the six paddocks. Underground electric went in with the water pipes, and there is an outlet at each tank (with a GFCI). Have traditionally used 70-100 gallon tanks with drain plug heaters (animals can't play with them), but this year I dropped one tank inside another, with bubble insulation in between, and am trying out a [much] lower wattage pond-filter/heater set-up (posted in my recent "grades" post).
    btw, remember folks, that if you leave your hose connected to a frost free hydrant, the frost free may not drain properly, and it an still freeze!

  22. Good advice. I've never really thought about the fact that I always buy the longest hoses comes back to bite me in the butt in the winter months.

  23. We live in the cold prairies (-35'C or -31'F on a regular basis) and we couldn't live without our stock heater. We also insulate the water trough in a large wooden box and cover half the top to try and minimize heat loss. Draining the hose is important (and saves trying to thaw it in the basement) as is turning off the water to the hydrant. Freeze free my butt - everything freezes at this temperature. I've heard placing apples in the trough works so the horses "bob" for the apples, but it's too cold in our climate.

  24. You have written the definitive version of this all important how to avoid frozen hoses issue. And only after having had a frozen hose does one know how important the problem really is. I also recommend heated water buckets in the stalls. Siete loves to drink "tea" with a little apple cider vinegar in it.

  25. I've heard that if you put a stick into the water trough, the water will not usually freeze. I haven't tried it personally, but, it might not hurt to try out the theory... Shadow D.