Wintertime can be a pain in the you-know-what for livestock owners. Busting up frozen water troughs and water buckets day in and day out isn’t any fun at all. Thankfully, I have a few solutions that can keep livestock water from freezing in winter. Whether you are keeping a flock of chickens through the winter or a herd of cows, there is something here for you.
Tips to Keep Livestock Water from Freezing in Winter
We are just now dipping our toes into chillier temps so this is the time to prep your livestock shelters & waterers if you haven’t already. Read through to decide which of these methods makes the most sense for your homestead and then implement them before the colder weather hits.
1. Replace Your Water Containers
If you currently use metal waterers, swap them out for rubber tubs or even plastic buckets for the winter. You may also want to consider a black livestock waterer since black absorbs more heat than lighter colors.
If you have animals, like rabbits, that use a bottle-to-nipple watering system, you may need to switch to bowls during cold snaps or add small birdbath heating elements to the bottles.
I switch my chickens from a 5-gallon poultry waterer to a heated plastic dog bowl when the temperatures begin to drop below freezing. I also have a black rubber water pan out for the ducks.
2. Use a Heating Element
There are a couple of different heating options for livestock waterers.
**Make sure that you keep the outlet connections for any electric heater away from the water source
Submersible Tank Heater
One of the most common ways to keep livestock waterers from freezing is by submerging a heating element down into the water trough. There are large stock tank heaters that work well for open troughs (think cattle waterers) and smaller submersible heating elements that warm poultry waterers and bucket/nipple water systems.
Heated Water Base
You can also purchase heating elements that act as a base for your watering container. This is perfect for poultry drinkers. The heated water base sits directly under the water bucket to increase the temperature of the water just enough to keep it from freezing.
Heated Livestock Waterers
Propane Livestock Water Heaters
There are also propane stock tank heating options. This is more costly, but it can keep livestock water from freezing even in the event of a power outage.
3. Use a Heated Dog Water Bowl
My favorite winter swap is putting away the 5-gallon poultry drinker and bringing out the heated dog water bowl. My flock is currently small enough that I only need one bowl so this works great! The only issue that I run into is that the duck likes to try to swim in it.
While these heated dishes are great for chickens, they also work well for sheep, goats, and other small to medium-sized livestock.
4. Insulate Water Pans to keep livestock water from freezing
Surrounding the outside of your waterers can help retain heat and slow down the freezing process. Insulating waterers works in milder winter temperatures, but if the temp gets too low, the water will freeze anyway. It is a good idea to insulate livestock waterers, but have additional plans for when harsher temperatures arrive.
You can place water bowls/pans inside old tires to slow the freezing process. Rubber insulates the water and keeps it a couple of degrees warmer. I use a rubber water pan inside of an old tire and, while it still freezes, it stays in liquid form longer and it is easy to bust when a layer of ice tries to form. You can also stuff the tire with straw to add extra insulation.
Bury the Water Tank
Burying your livestock water bucket/pan in a shallow hole underground can help keep the water warmer because the ground will keep the cold air from surrounding the sides of the water tank.
Other Insulation Materials
5. Replace Water Frequently
This one is common sense, but it also takes more intentionality. You need to check your livestock waterers often when the temperature dips below freezing. Break up and remove any solid ice chunks and add a little hot water to prevent it from immediately re-freezing. When you refill the waterers, use warm water to slow the freezing process down a bit.
6. Place Waterers in Full Sun
Simply moving your waterers to an area with full sunlight can prolong the amount of time that you have before they begin to freeze. Make sure that they are placed in a spot that receives direct sunlight for the entire day if possible.
7. Keep Water in Motion
Water circulation does a really good job keeping livestock water from freezing in mild winters (above freezing and slightly below). When using this method in temperatures well below freezing, keep an eye on the tanks throughout the day to make sure the water isn’t freezing around the floaters.
This method is pretty straightforward. Place something solid that will float in the water bucket. This “floater” will move around the water’s surface breaking up ice particles as they begin to form. You can use ping-pong balls, a bottle filled with saltwater, golf balls, a basketball (for larger tanks), or drinker/float balls as water floats.
Electric Water Circulators
You can purchase an electric water circulator, like a fish tank pump or a pond fountain to keep water moving inside your livestock waterers.