Keep Water Flowing for Cattle

Tips for Maintaining Livestock Waterers

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Work on waterers now to avoid them getting frozen later. (DTN photo by Russ Quinn.)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Much like many farm kids, one of my first jobs on our farm was to make sure our beef cattle had water. During the summer this chore was a fairly easy task -- just run water. But in the cold Nebraska winters, it was more a challenge as we had to make sure tank heaters worked properly, and sometimes you had to break up ice.

We had a metal stock tank in the fence line of three different pens. This arrangement allowed us to water all but one of our cattle lots easily.

Then we moved to our current farm nearly 20 years ago. The previous owner had poured some cement and run electricity and water for an automatic waterer, but he didn't finish the job. After some consideration, we purchased a waterer and had it installed.

For most winters my life was considerably easier, well, at least with keeping water thawed. I still had to go out and make sure it wasn't frozen, but for a good 10 years I didn't have to do anything and there was no ice to break up.

I'm certainly a fan of automatic waterers now, but I was also curious what maintenance should go along with having these wonderful machines. In an article titled "Livestock Watering Systems Energy Efficiency Checklist and Tips", looked at ways livestock producers could assess the energy efficiency of their waterers and help identify strategies to save energy and reduce costs.

Livestock producers with automatic waterers should ask themselves a series of questions in order to save energy and reduce costs, according to the article. The questions included:

-- Are you using a water fountain with a covered water surface?

-- Do water bowl covers fit snugly, but are easily opened by livestock?

-- In northern climates, is the thermostat set so that the water does not freeze, but not so high that the heater turns on when livestock drink (32 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit)?

-- Is the thermostat working properly?

-- Is there good wind protection around the water fountain?

-- Do float valves leak?

-- Would extra insulation be beneficial? Can it be installed?

-- Is the waterer the right size for the number of animals?

In addition, the article also recommended several tips for maintaining waterers. They include:

-- Make sure the water fountains don't overflow; pumping excess water can be costly.

-- Improperly working thermostats are common. Make sure yours are functioning correctly.

-- Adjust thermostats to maintain frost-free water.

-- Energy free or frost-free water fountains can be operated without a heater but need lids/covers and a minimum number of animals drinking from the fountain to keep the water from freezing.

-- Insulate the inside surfaces of the fountains and add additional insulation inside the top 3 feet of the riser pipe.

-- When installing the fountain, use 12-inch diameter (minimum) heat well for riser pipe.

-- Make sure to protect water fountain from the wind.

I learned to keep the cold air out of the compartment where the water valve and float is housed. If you could do this, it will probably not freeze up.

As our waterer got to about 10 or 12 years old, the metal lid on the top of it began to rust in the corners and this began to let cold air in and it would freeze up. I got a replacement lid, put it on, and thought I solved the problem.

It did not.

In the next few years, I noticed the insulation was falling off the inside of the waterer. Then one of the pans got slightly bent (I don't know how the cows managed to do this but they did) and this allowed even more air into the waterer.

The last couple winters consisted of me taking the cover off and pouring hot water into the curved water valve to thaw it out many days during the winter, sometimes multiple times a day. Before last winter began, we decided it was time to do something about this problem. After consulting with the folks who originally installed the first waterer 15 years earlier, we decided to replace it. Repairing the old one would be just about as expensive as just getting a new one.

The new one is made of plastic instead of metal. It will be interesting to see if we get more years of service with this new one.

Regardless, it is really nice not have to break up ice in the stock tank on cold days anymore, and I wouldn't be without an automatic waterer now.

The full article can found at…

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Russ Quinn