May 8, 2023

Learn How to Keep Your Waterers Ice Free This Winter

The Farmers’ Almanac is predicting “the winter of the great divide” for the 2020-21 season – cold and snowy in the north with drought in the west. Time will tell if this prediction is accurate but one thing you can count on is that cold winter weather can make even the simplest chore much more difficult. Plan now for a water winterization routine that can help eliminate any icy, frozen surprises.

Water is the Most Important Nutrient We Provide Our Animals

“Although water is the cheapest nutrient we may purchase or provide, it is the one we provide the most of on a per pound basis,” said Ted Wiseman, extension educator for Ohio State University Extension Beef Team. “Cattle will need to drink about seven pounds of water for every pound of dry matter consumed. Colder temperatures increase feed intake to generate body heat. Decreased water availability reduces feed intake which results in decreased body condition, poor fetal growth rates, and lactation levels.”

Whether your homestead has cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, camelids, horses, or all of the above, it is crucial that your stock have access to fresh, clean water at all times. All species of livestock prefer warmer water in the wintertime. For example, sheep prefer water between 45 degrees and 55 degrees, according to Tom Drudik, extension educator for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Very cold water discourages adequate water consumption.

On a small scale, it can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to keep the water in your tank from freezing. Ritchie Industries, Inc., the Iowa company that invented automatic waterers in 1921, has designed an affordable product line for homesteaders called the Genesis Series that combines the benefits of automatic watering with the versatility of portable or permanent mounting options.

“If you’ve been lugging around buckets daily or dumping and scrubbing out stock tanks, the Genesis series has been designed with you in mind,” said Robert Amundson, President, and CEO at Ritchie Industries, Inc. “The Genesis series is all about convenience. The biggest advantage for smaller operations is the easy installation – no digging, you just hook up a 200 PSI garden hose to the waterer and you are in business. Our Classic Equine series is engineered specifically for horse owners and offers many options including water meters and stainless-steel construction. For our colder climate customers, Ritchie has a robust line of completely automatic waterers that can be combined with heating options.”

Prepare for Winter Before the Bitter Cold Sets In

No matter what system you use, there are some simple maintenance tasks you need to perform to keep your waterers and heaters operating at peak performance.

Step One: Clean Valve Chamber and Drinking AreasRemove covers and use a brush or sponge to remove any debris that may have been collected in trough areas and valve chambers. Pay special attention to the area where the immersion heater is housed. Deposits can build up on the heater if it is continuously stored in the waterer.

Step Two: Check All Water SealsQuality automatic waterers, like those manufactured by Ritchie Industries, Inc., can utilize water seals using tracks intended to hold water or vegetable oil during cold weather which will freeze or seal the covers down onto the unit during the winter. If the tracks are full of debris or other materials, they won’t seal properly, and cold air may leak in and freeze your valve system.

Step Three: Inspect the All-Weather Sealant 

Check the all-weather sealant around the base of the unit and the concrete pad to ensure no gaps have formed that would allow air to penetrate the underside of the unit.  Replace if needed. Before winter, make sure to inspect the unit to make sure no critters have taken up residence or caused damage.

Step Four: Install & Inspect Optional Heating Units – Inspect all units for any damage. Plug in and turn on the breaker to the immersion heater and/or heat cable after it is installed and underwater. Chill the water with ice to activate the built-in thermostat.  You can also test by placing your immersion heater in a freezer for 10-15 minutes and then plugging it in without placing it in water. Either way, the heater should be warm to the touch within 15 seconds if it is working properly.  

Units that have built-in thermostatically controlled heaters can be tested by simply turning the power on to the unit and filling the drinking areas with ice to activate the thermostats. If the ice melts away, your unit is operating properly.

Step Five: Troubleshoot Heating Elements – If your immersion heater is not becoming noticeably warm to the touch or if there is damage to the cord/wires, a new heater will be needed.

If the ice you poured in the thermostatically controlled drinking area of your unit does not melt away there are two main causes. If the ice melts on just one side of the unit, the heater on the opposite side may be malfunctioning and need replacing. If none of the ice melts, then your thermostat may need to be replaced or the power to the unit is faulty. If you suspect an electrical issue, consult with an electrician.

Self-regulating cable heaters are low wattage and do not feel noticeably warm to the touch. You may need to test this with a voltage meter or ask for assistance from an electrician. If this element goes out during the winter, you will notice that the drinking areas are free of ice, but you are not getting water from the valve.

Easy Water Solutions for Every Hobby Farmer and Homesteader This Winter

With a little maintenance and a solid winterization plan, you can keep the freshwater flowing this winter and keep your stock healthy and happy.

“There’s nothing worse than breaking ice or doing maintenance on a waterer when it is freezing outside,” said Amundson. “Ritchie offers a full line of durable, quality livestock founts that are cost-effective, innovative, and backed by the best warranty in the business. It is our mission to provide fresh water for life.”