It was -23 below when I woke up this morning. My house water was frozen again. My creek is about done watering livestock this year (and it took the whole summer off from a drought). Nothing wants to run, turn, hold together or keep running in this weather. How do I keep horses watered? Cows too!
My approach could be called “simplest is best” or at least, it is best for me. I’m not mechanical and I don’t have a big enough place to spend all day doing ranch work like fixing broken waterers. While long term costs are important constraints for me, huge up front investments are out of the question. In other words, my situation is like a lot of small horse and cattle ranches.
I’ve got lots of stupid automatic waterers scattered around, in the way and not working. They are for sale if you are interested.
Over the years the losing battles to keep the water running in those buggers has forced me back to the simple solution. I have Rubbermaid tanks with heaters in them and I fill them from a hydrant. Yep, not very high tech.
The advantages are that if the electricity and therefore the water pump goes out (that happens here when it is bitterly cold or brutally hot) you have a chance at having a stockpile of water. Yes, it will freeze in a day or two but at least you aren’t instantly out. You can chop the ice on the top and get them to water underneath – leave as much ice as you can for insulation. Hot air rises and all that.
Another advantage is that the startup cost isn’t too bad. Tanks range from $150 to $250 and the heaters, which NEVER last more than 1 month into their second winter, are $50-60. Not great, considering all the other high costs we have to contend with, but better than the maybe a grand an automatic waterer will set you back.
Your electric bill will suffer from a tank heater. You might try insulating and partially covering your tank. I’m always going to do that next summer. Some kind of temperature shutoff on your heater will very much be worth it. Mine is built into my barn’s electric system – every outlet that might have a heater plugged in shuts off when the outside temp is 40 degrees or warmer. You can get similar gadgets for each heater cord and they will pay for themselves.
What I learned from the 2017 Drought – Banjos to the Rescue!
It was drier here this summer than I ever remember. But I’m only 53. Someone asked my 93 year old father if he remembered it this dry before. He said, “Sure. In the 30’s.”
A lot of time and money gets wasted hauling water all summer and fall here. And then pumping water out of a really cool old hand dug homesteader well on the north end of this place. All of that was annoying and a waste of time. But I learned something.
I hate hooking up hoses to hydrants in the winter. When it gets much below zero, something causes those metal hose connections to mis-shape themselves. (And no, I don’t care if that’s not a word. If you water livestock in cold country, you know what I mean.) It is impossible to get the female end of the hose connector to turn. And it will never, ever fit on that hydrant if you are arrogant enough to wear gloves. You must have bare hands, you must run water so your bare hands get wet, and then you can get it twisted half way on the hydrant. Then it sticks and you must turn the water on to warm it all. Then, of course, the water sprays all over you. Once the cold water gods feel you are significantly drenched, the connector can be tightened the rest of the way.
For years I’ve been sure there was a better way. There had to be a way to just snap on the hose on the hydrant! This summer I finally learned about Banjo cam lever couplings when I needed to buy a pump for that hand-dug well. The very helpful guys at the hardware store encouraged me to buy these slick inch and a half couplings so I didn’t have to screw on and off the band on the big hosing. Great!
It took a while, but I started seeing useful places for those nifty things all over the ranch. And then it finally came to me! Sure enough, Amazon has garden hose size Banjo fittings! I ordered them right away and wondered why I hadn’t have them for years!
How to Water Horses with Banjo Fittings
These are really easy to hook up. You just screw the female end on the hydrant and the male end on the hose. That’s where they will stay all winter. My mom is looking forward to using them in the summer because the screwing hoses on is difficult for her now.
You pop the connector on the hose into the connector on the hydrant. It fits easily – just a tiny bit of resistance lets you know it is in place. Then you flip the little levers (they have rings on the ends to grab easier) up and that is it! You are ready to run water without leaking or spraying all over you.
When you are done, just flip the levers back down and the connectors come apart easily.
This might be a minor element in ranch management, but they make me smile every single day all winter!
Now, if we could just find a way to keep me from causing my next biggest winter watering problem – running the water over.