The biggest problem for many homesteaders with livestock is keeping water liquid when temperatures dip below freezing. Since fresh water is such an important element in the health and well being of your animals, you are going to have to find a way to keep it flowing even in the coldest weather. Here are a few ways to help you with the on-going efforts of keeping your livestock hydrated.
There are electric heating elements that you can buy for containers as small as single five-gallon buckets to as big as large stock tanks. By and far, this is the physically easiest way to keep water unfrozen in even the worst winter weather. Livestock water heaters can even be used in outdoor stock tanks.
There are three important points to remember when utilizing stock tank water heaters. The first is you should always make sure that the extension cords used for outdoor tanks are weatherproof and rated for use outside. The second is that all wiring must be out of reach of the animals. This can be done by securing the cords to the outside of fencing, or the outside of stalls inside a shed or barn. The last point to remember is probably the most important of all: always make sure the water is above the heating element in the bucket or tank. Letting the water level drop below the heater can burn it out, or, even worse, start a fire.
Keeping water unfrozen can be quite a workout if you choose not to use heaters. However, if you do not have electricity available to the livestock areas, or just don’t want the risk of electrical equipment in the barn, your only other alternative is to physically keep rotating fresh water for frozen.
When the temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you will need to check the buckets and tanks at least every two hours. At 32 degrees, you may just have thin layers of ice on the surface of bigger tanks, and you can break it up and add a little warm water to liquefy the ice.
At lower temperatures, stock tanks become much less efficient and can freeze solid in just a few hours. During the coldest months, you need to bring water in buckets out to livestock that are outside unless you are lucky enough to have a free-moving stream or river on your property. Water that moves constantly is very slow to freeze and makes a great water source. Most of us aren’t that lucky, however.
When swapping buckets for outdoor livestock or animals in the barn, you will have to exchange the buckets on a regular basis—again, about every two hours. Carrying the frozen buckets in to warm up and melt and replacing them with fresh water buckets means you need to have at least two buckets for each spot.
Ponds are beautiful, and you may feel lucky to have one on your property; however, if you do have one, keep them out of any pasture or turnout areas. Even in the summer, algae buildup and other contaminants make it a less-than-desirable water source.
In the winter months, ponds can be downright dangerous when located inside livestock containment areas. The lure of water is strong, and animals do not understand the principle of ice and that the hard surface won’t hold them. Too often an animal will walk out onto the ice, and as they approach the open area where the ice is the thinnest, it cracks and they are tossed into the ice-cold water with no way to get out.
Keeping water flowing is one of the most challenging things for any livestock owner. Whether you choose to use modern electrical methods, or rough it and build up your muscles and endurance changing frozen for fresh on a regular basis, keep your livestock healthy in the winter with plenty of fresh, clean water.
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