How To Keep A Water Trough From Freezing

Snowy pastures sure are beautiful to look at…but they also bring a whole other set of challenges for the livestock that call them home. Keeping your horses, cows, goats, and sheep healthy all winter long starts with one of the most basic elements of survival, access to drinkable water sources. Frozen water troughs prevent your animals from getting the amount of water they need to digest and can cause a myriad of health issues.

Animals that do not hibernate need to increase their food consumption during the winter because they are using so much energy to stay warm. As a result, they need to increase their water intake as well to help digest all the extra food. Colic, impacted digestive tracts, dehydration and other health risks increase greatly if livestock do not have access to drinkable water. Horses are especially susceptible to digestive health complaints. Novices may assume that animals can stay completely hydrated solely on ice and snow, but unfortunately that is not the case. Rerouting body heat to compensate for eating and licking frozen water would use valuable energy your animals need to stay warm and fed. Let’s take a look at some helpful tips to keep your water troughs from freezing.

How To Keep A Water Trough From Freezing

Cows at a frozen water trough

Try out 1 or a combination of these different tips to save you time and hassle during sub-freezing temperatures.

Sun Exposure

During the winter time, there is a noticeable temperature differential between sunlight and shadow. Relocate your troughs so they receive as much full sun as possible. Depending upon your hemisphere, be aware of the direction and angle of your winter sunlight. Consider using a black trough that can absorb and retain radiant heat from the sun during the day.

Increase Your Volume 

Larger volumes of water self-insulate and take much longer to freeze than smaller volumes of water. If you are using buckets for water, consider switching to a larger volume tank. For some areas, simply filling your trough to the brim before temperatures drop may be enough to keep your water fluid.


Have you ever seen a flowing brook during sub-freezing temperatures? Copy nature’s tricks by keeping the surface of your water trough moving and agitated to prevent ice buildup. Place buoyant objects, such as basketballs or soccer balls on the surface of your water. Curious animals will bump and press the balls as they drink and create movement in the trough. When the animals are not drinking the wind will take over and blow and bob the balls around on the surface.

Ice Removal

If you see any ice forming on the surface of your water trough, remove it as soon as possible. Ice crystals act as seeds and will encourage more water to freeze if left in the trough. Removing ice and refilling will help your liquid water last longer.

Create a Heat Island

Grouping your troughs close together within the pasture or enclosure creates a “heat island.” As livestock gather together to drink their body temperatures combine to create a warm spot around your water sources. Placing water troughs together will also provide them with additional insulation from the cold. This will also save you time and energy as you make fewer trips to check on water sources. 

Partial Burial

Before the ground freezes, dig down below your typical frost line and create a space for your trough. Partially burying your trough can help keep it fluid even in sub-freezing temperatures. This enables you to capture geo-thermic heat rising from the earth and provide additional insulation and prevent your water tank from freezing.

Create a Windbreak

Livestock naturally try and find ways to gather together and stay out of the winter wind. Building a 3 walled windbreak around your water source will entice your warm-blooded animals to congregate and find relief from the wind. This wind-break will now become the heat island mentioned earlier. Also, make sure the open side faces in the direction of the sun so you are not shading your water tank too much.

Double Wall and Insulate

A double walled storage container is a popular solution for increasing thermal insulation. Double walls are used in ice chests, thermoses, and even in our homes. Sandwiching insulating materials in between these 2 walls also add an extra level of protection. So why not use the same practice on your winter water troughs? Simply Place your water container within a slightly larger one and pack the empty space with animal safe insulative material…there is plenty around.

Wood shavings, hay, straw, and even manure can be used in between the double walls and provide your water with extra thermal protection. If your outside container is made of black rubber, even better. The black rubber will absorb solar heat and give you an added advantage over mother nature. Some livestock owners even use old tires to encase their waterers. Just make sure your insulative barrier does not prevent your animals from reaching the inner water trough.

Careful Use of Electricity

Extreme caution is needed when using electricity near a water source. Not to mention the added risk of curious animals with minds of their own. To reduce the risk of electric shock make sure you have your wiring inspected to make sure it can handle the load of any electric device you plug into it. Only use electric water heaters that keep wiring and heating elements safely away from your animals. 

Propane Water Heaters

If propane fueled heaters become your method of choice, there are 2 things you need to watch out for. Be sure to closely watch your pilot light and protect it from wind and water. In addition, propane tanks lose pressure and performance in cold temperatures. Using a propane heater will increase tank performance and efficiency all winter long.

Powerblanket Agricultural Solutions

Here at Powerblanket, we specialize in total temperature control for a wide range of agricultural solutions. We have you covered with safe, even heating and freeze protection for water troughs, milk vats, fertilizer storage, DEF storage, propane or other gas tanks, and more. If you can build it, haul it, or store it then Powerblanket can heat it.

Powerblanket Agricultural Heating Solutions

We are proud to serve the agricultural industry with temperature control solutions that are economical, customizable, and easy to use or transport. Contact us today to find the perfect agricultural heating solutions for your needs at 855-972-2314 or [email protected]

Powerblanket's custom tank heaters provide freeze protection, making your business more sustainable and efficient.


Shelby Thompson

Shelby Thompson is the head of standard product sales for Powerblanket. He has a distinguished military career, having served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In his time in the Marines, Shelby acquired an impressive skillset that he now uses in his current role. When he's not working, Shelby loves spending time outdoors with his wife, son, and daughter. He is also a semi-keen hunter, fair weather fisherman, and shooter. Unfortunately, Shelby also has something of an unlucky streak when it comes to Fantasy Football at the company.

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