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The Poor Man's Guide to Ice Free Livestock Water

The frigid weather always reveals the little projects that we procrastinated on during better weather - like devising a way to keep the stock tanks from freezing solid. It's never an "if" they will freeze, but "when" they will freeze. We know this, and yet... we did not make it a priority... until now!

So what can ya do now?... buy an electric stock tank heater or perhaps one of those elaborate and expensive insulated waterers... or... DIY without electricity.

Let's start with hoses

There are two ways to keep hoses from freezing that do not require electricity

1. Drain your hose after each use, or 2. you can actually store your hose in a large water trough filled with water - if the water stays thawed... your hose will stay thawed, flexible and usable. An alternative to storing in water is storing in or on compost. Everyone knows compost heats up- it’s part of the decomposition process and the reason that compost piles and manure heaps tend to remain snow-free even when the garden or barnyard is covered with snow. It takes a little time to get a pile hot from scratch so find a pile somewhere on your farm that is already "cookin'" and transplant some of that free steamy heat mass. Dig to the center of the heap for the really hot stuff then mix with fresh components in a large trash can or ? Compost needs to have some mass to keep the heat production going. Stage the compost can near the spigot and keep the hose coiled on top of the compost (with a lid on if possible to retain even more heat.)

On to buckets and troughs

Compost is a surprisingly effective way to insulate buckets and troughs too.

Fill the bottom and sides of the larger stock tank with a 50/50 mix of very fresh manure and fine plant matter. Hay or straw work- and this is a great way to use up any hay or straw bales showing signs of mold. Tip - keep any "nibble" worthy components out of reach. The last thing ya want is a preventable vet bill.

Any sort of outer insulation will delay freezing, but if saturated may actually compound the problem by not allowing it to warm up. Foam or spray foam could be used but keep in mind the "nibble factor" and keep it out of reach of the intended animals.

If the trough is outdoors use a dark colored trough to get more solar heat benefit.

A plastic stock tank freezes more slowly than a metal one, but a metal one will thaw more quickly, so... pick your poison.

The bigger your vessel, the longer it takes to freeze. A standard bucket freezes much faster than a 150-gallon tank. A large volume of water insulates itself and that makes a big difference in how long it will stay thawed.

Place some large floating objects in your stock tanks. A basketball, tennis ball, or other non-sinking object bobs and floats around in the water, agitating the surface and making it difficult for an ice skin to form over the top of the tank. Plus there’s an added benefit in really cold weather! If an ice skin does manage to form, the floating object creates a weak spot in the ice that your stock can more easily break by pushing down on the ball to create a drinking hole.

A Floating Lid - This is the same principle as putting on a hat to keep from losing heat from the top of your head. Use a floating piece of foam the size and shape of your vessel to insulate the surface of the water from direct contact with the air, which prevents heat loss much like a pool cover. A little nose nudge on the floating foam, causes it to sink a bit and water flows over the top to drink.

Water will stay thawed longer if you remove the frozen chunks of ice from the stock tank. Removing ice pieces and then refilling the tank with water above freezing will help extend the amount of time until the tank freezes over again.

If electricity is not a problem... Pond/fountain/aquarium aerators placed at the bottom of your tank disperses infinite amount of air bubbles that continually agitate the surface and delay/prevent ice from skinning. Yep, it would need electricity, but could be safer than a de-icing heating element and it works great in the summer to prevent algae.

Last but not least...the water pipe itself

Frozen broken pipes are the worst! Mainly because it's too cold to be out doing repairs and the area needing fixin' usually needs to be thawed to fix. Grrrr (and Brrrrr.)

Sure you can cover the riser and spigot with an insulated "sock", "sleeve" or "blanket", but that's a pain to put on and off so here is a cost effective and fail safe solution:

Water Pipe heating cables simply tapes to your plastic or metal pipe or riser. Yes, they require electricity but sooo worth it! They have a built-in thermostat and weather-resistant PVC outer jacket and inner insulation. These claim to keep water flowing down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit and it's cheap! Like $25 bucks. This particular one is avialable at

Come summer... here is a more elaborate Ice Free Watering Tank project from Mother Earth News to add to your to-do-list: Build a Solar Stock Tank


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