Winter on the farm or ranch means getting up at the crack of dawn and tending to the livestock. When an animal depends upon you, you cannot let it down. They may be stuck in a corral or pen and cannot fend for themselves. They cannot get their own water or food and, no matter how cold it is, you are the one who will have to see to their needs.
Tending to Livestock During the Winter:
Cows, horses, goats, and other farm animals must have a fresh source of water, especially during the winter. Mother Nature loves to freeze the fresh water into chunks of solid ice and your livestock cannot break the ice themselves. To keep your livestock healthy, you will need to go out and clear the ice so that they can drink.
Breaking Ice Manually During the Winter:
There are several ways to deal with water troughs during the winter. One is to go out early each morning and break the ice. It is better to shovel as much of the ice out of the trough to help it keep from re-freezing during a cold day. In some areas, you will need to use a sledge hammer to break through thick ice, in other areas; a shovel will do the job nicely. Use a pitchfork or shovel to get beneath the large chunks of ice and remove them from the trough.
Consider Investing in Water Trough Heaters:
Another option is to install livestock drinking trough heaters. Advances in ranching have led to the development of different types of livestock drinking trough heaters. There are electrical heaters, propane and solar heaters available that will keep the drinking trough free of ice during the winter. You will still want to check the trough daily yourself to be sure there was no equipment failure during the night.
Options to Breaking Ice for Livestock
Insulate the trough against the cold. Many people have developed systems of insulating the livestock water trough so that it cannot build up with ice. Mother Earth News recently had an article outlining the principals of using black paint, glass, insulation and the power of the sun to minimize livestock water trough freezing . Be sure to keep an eye on the livestock water tank even if you are sure it is working properly. Nothing will hurt livestock more than the lack of water during cold weather.
Make Livestock Chores a Daily Priority During the Winter
Livestock become accustomed to eating and drinking during the same time every day. The livestock will gather when they know it is time for you to come tend to them. If you feed at 7:00 am every day, the cows will be there waiting on you for their breakfast and their water. By training yourself to go out at the same time, you are actually working with the internal clocks of your livestock and will have healthier animals because of it. You will also benefit from not having to wait on them each morning when you may be running later for work.