Grit Blogs > Homesteading with Mrs D

Dealing With Frozen Water Troughs

By Robyn Dolan 


Tags: Cold, Snow, Ice, Robyn Dolan,

Snow and cold in Arizona

A photo of Robyn DolanThe Homestead has had some extreme weather the last few weeks.  10 and 16 below zero overnight New Years week, then up into the high 50s during the day.  Fortunately, not much damage was done.  Except to the electric bill. I finally decided it was more economical to put an extra heater in the pumphouse than to fight with frozen and broken water lines.  That made the biggest inconvenience the frozen water troughs.  The smaller ones froze solid for several days, the larger ones maintained over a foot of ice on the surface.  It was really tricky getting enough water to the animals during that period.  I almost resorted to running a hose from the water heater to the troughs just to help them thaw out faster.  There is just no easy way to chip through that much solid ice.

Snowed in chicken coop

Perhaps I'll have to consider some heating elements for the water troughs now.  At least the hose thawed out after the first day.  Carrying water to 5 horses and a dairy cow is alot of work!  Not to mention the smaller animals.  A garden cart doesn't slide too well over snow.  I considered putting skis on it, but I already gave away my downhills and didn't want to ruin my cross countrys.

Horses in the snow

And speaking of the garden cart, hauling the hay to all the critters was quite a project without it.  I tried putting a bale on the old broken Radio Flyer sled, but it was too heavy and sank into the snow.  So now I'm brainstorming ideas for hand drawn transport of hay bales and water buckets over snow.  A sheet of aluminum roofing?  Sled runners for the garden cart?  Teach the horses to (gulp!) work?! and pull a wagon?  Any ideas?

rodger
1/9/2016 7:36:57 PM

We use to put a piece of wood like,a small chunk of firewood in the water.The theory is that the floating wood while moving around by the breeze will keep the surface from freezing.Also you,would be surprised how fast your ice would thaw by lighting up enough charcoal piles around the base will thaw in a fairly short time.


carla
1/1/2016 11:42:21 AM

I don't know how big your homestead is,how many animals you're watering & feeding, etc., so that may color some of my ideas, here, a bit. From the picture, the first thing I'd suggest, is creating a wind block, to protect your water, somewhat, from that aspect. You might be surprised, at just how much of a difference it can make. If you can, a better way might be to build a box or small 3 sided shelter around them. I'd also surround the troughs with straw, styrofoam (cutting up some old, cheap styrofoam coolers works wonders), to insulate them - unless you have other means, that is often the cheapest way to go. A drop-in heater is a bit more of an expense, but is also a good thing. The deeper tanks, that hold a lot more water are also slower to freeze, and surrounded by something to insulate them, and protected with a wind break - even just a tree band or two, might make all the difference in the world for you. One other thing, might be an aerator, to keep the water moving. Still water freezes faster than moving water. Absolutely, the sleds were how we hauled our hay, with 6 horses, a Jersey cow, and 3 bulls to feed. And that was even harnessing the mass of teenager power (3 strong ones!). If you have a horse strong enough/mellow enough to draft, then, by all means! We also used one for hauling our home-heating firewood up from the back side of our property. Good luck, and stay warm!


mbjbinsc
1/1/2016 8:34:19 AM

Toboggans and bungee cords to hold the bales in place work well for hauling hay over snow. Even the heavy plastic kids type saucers and toboggans work for 1 or 2 bales! Moving south also works:) Judi in Campobello, SC formerly from NH


sherry
2/20/2015 7:59:02 PM

Let's face it... Winter and chores are not most people's idea of fun. I live on the Front Range of Colorado currently and have resided in the heart of mountain regions as well. I agree the sled idea was definitely the best solution I have used for moving the hay around snow laden ground and found the light weight saucer sleds worked great and I could often find them cheap at the local thrift stores. Even if you have to buy them new, they are reasonable. However, that doesn't even begin to address the countless days, weeks and months over my lifetime that I have been dealing with frozen hoses, water troughs and even at a couple locations we've lived, the water hydrant pumps that are absolutely not supposed to freeze. I have become very pro-active as I am in my 50's now and quite frankly, it's getting harder and harder to motivate and move when it's that cold outside. In the summer/fall months this past year I started by first purchasing several of the new styled lower wattage tank heaters. They are supposedly thermostatically controlled but I still unplug them when the weather warrants it. I have 750 watt heaters in my 150 gal tanks which have worked well for the tanks that have any element of protection. In fact, you could probably get by with 500 watts which they now offer, but may have to break some ice if it gets real cold. The tanks I have out in the open pens - where there generally are no horses kept when the weather is extreme; but I like to keep them from freezing solid when ever possible - so I rotate one of my older 1500 watt heaters in those two tanks part of the time and am able to save the water for when the horses are turned back out again - saving on the water bill as well. I also keep one of the 1500 watt heaters in my big tank - I think it's like 400 gallons. I can't tell you how many winters have found our bathtubs and back door entries hosting hoses to thaw or avoid freezing solid. URGH! When it is extremely cold, we've had hoses freeze before we can even get them drained after disconnecting them. It's crazy when this happens, but the only solution was bringing them inside the house or heating the tack room, neither were very good options. Therefore, this past summer my pro-active campaign included a heated 75 foot hose. Expensive and not my every day hose by any sense of the word, but I did have to use it a couple times this winter when the temps were consistently below 0 with highs in the low single digits. I think it was worth the investment after so many times having to carry buckets from no thawed hoses in a pinch. I also picked up a free give away insulated tank box from our local Craigslist - it is pretty handy and reduces the need for the heaters to operate no more than minimally. It is a large wooden box with a lid that has two holes on either side for a 150 gallon tank to accommodate two pens where necessary. The additional advantage to this concept is that it is effective for summer and winter. It keeps the water cooler in the summer, reducing the algae growth and keeping the tank cleaner from debris. And if you are like me and have one of those special equines that seem to find a way to poop in their water tanks, it eliminates their ability to do so and saves emptying tanks on a regular basis. This box was homemade and the concept is simple enough. The inside walls of the box are insulated with some sort of foam board, but you could use any insulating value material. I think to keep it lighter weight, styrafoam sheeting will be my choice if and when I build additional tank boxes. I believe that the boxes by themselves are an asset, but you can put a passive solar add on to them to help heat the water more in the winter. However, if you like to use the box for cooler/cleaner water in the summer, you will want to be sure you can disconnect this feature. There is no bottom to the box I picked up but I believe it would be a good idea to add some sort of ground cover underneath it in the winter. The disadvantage to this particular box is the weight and being able to empty and clean the tanks is a little tougher, but undoubtedly worth it. However, if you are building your own, I believe you want use a choice of materials to keep it light weight and the insulating value high to make it more manageable and movable. You will also want to put some metal corner edging on the edges to avert any wood chewing! This works great on wood fencing and rough cut stall walls too. I also put a pipe insulation on my water pump hydrants - even though I have not had any freezes at this home, I figure it is better safe than sorry and it also offers protection to the hydrant, which is always good. I make sure if I leave a hose outside I keep it drained and up off the ground, usually running it along the fence to the tank where it goes too. If I can put the hose downhill and over something very tall, at least 8 feet, I will pull it over that and only drain it once. However, if I am draining by hand over hand over my head, I drain two or three times, as once rarely gets all the residual water out. My main hose I drain and keep in the barn, attempting to not roll it up anymore than necessary as the frozen rubber is much more inclined to freeze and become brittle. This winter I seen one just start breaking apart on me. It had been a very useful hose but the temps were so cold it couldn't take it. So, I am being more careful understanding our winter temps appear to becoming more brutal with every passing year. If you have to roll your hose up, I would suggest you keep it in an inner tack room or the mud room of the house if it gets really cold with little relief. Hoses are harder to find and rarely on sale in the middle of winter! Most of all, whenever the temps are above freezing, with potential of falling in coming hours, I insure the water tanks are full, with a hope I can avoid having to fill anything when it's that cold. Finally, it is not uncommon for our livestock to quit drinking the water they should when the temperatures fall. Make sure you have offered them a trace mineral or salt block to encourage they continue to drink enough and if that doesn't seem to work, I will give them a little grain with loose minerals/salt added with a sprinkle of water to insure it sticks. It's a lot cheaper and easier than dealing with a belly ache or paying for a vet visit to treat a colic in the dead cold of winter, usually after hours in the dark. ;-) I have to say, I can see why people start minimizing their livestock as they get on in years.... It isn't as easy as it used to be! Stay warm folks and happy watering!


thomasd
2/20/2015 2:14:35 PM

Until you can get a toboggan or sled, a piece of cardboard might work. Roll up the front and secure with duct tape, string a rope through the roll to pull with. A snotube would work too.


brea
2/20/2015 10:20:41 AM

I'd teach the horses to pull a small wagon. That way, they will help earn their keep. It sure won't hurt them. :-) and you already have them on the premises so you won't have to buy anything else. Hook 'em up to looong toboggans if you don't have a wagon. Let them do the pulling for you any way they can.


leon schwebke
10/8/2011 10:03:18 AM

I use the plastic tobaggan that I picked up at a thrift store for $1. Can tow up to three 50 lb bags of feed or one bale of hay across a snowy field. Also built a passive solar water trough for the horses after I put a meter on the trough heater and found it was costing $3o a month. Cost about $100 but paid for itself in one winter. Got the ideas here: http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/WaterHeating/SolarHorseTank/SolarHorseTank.htm


robyn dolan
2/16/2011 9:41:44 AM

Ooo, I've seen those. Bet it would work. I'll have to measure the cart and the sleds next time I'm in town. Thanks Cindy;) The beach and the mountains, my two favorite spots.


cindy murphy
2/15/2011 11:04:11 AM

Hey, Robin. Try using a hard, heavy plastic runner-less sled (not the flimsy kind that roll up). Rubber-maid makes a nice one that has the outer rim all the way around curved up. My kids use it to sled in winter, and I've used it on the beach in summer to drag drift wood and rocks over the sand, (always scrounging for stuff for the garden). When my youngest was a baby, I even put the stroller on the sled, and dragged her across the sand and down to the water that way. The curved sides kept the stroller in place. As a garden cart can not be pushed through snow, a stroller can not be pushed through sand. But I'd bet a garden cart can be pushed over the snow on a sled, just like a stroller over sand. Oh, and nice choice protecting the cross-country skis! I'd have done the same. Enjoy the day.