Letter Re: Frozen Livestock Water Tank Woes

Hi Jim,
I wanted to ask the vast readership for their help with winter water needs for livestock when we don’t have the luxury of electric tank heaters. I had done some research in the past and the only way I found to keep a livestock tank from freezing up with arctic winds was a wood fired Chofu, (Japanese), tank heater. The capacity much too small to handle the trick.
We have just survived another arctic blast with buckets and stock tanks freezing over immediately. The thought of relocating the livestock to open water does not seem viable unless it is open moving water as it would be froze over as well. I am seeking the knowledge of an old rancher that has dealt with this situation. I was hoping to find some sort of tank heater that could be coal fired for heat and ease of lighting if wet, at the very least compare designs and fabricate my own.
Any help? Thanks a bunch, – The Wanderer

JWR Replies: Here at our ranch we have two large stock tanks, both with electric heaters. But of course we have access to backup power. One solution you might consider for the long term: I’ve read passive ground heating has been used successfully in much of North America: Here is the method in a nutshell: Rent a power auger dig an overgrown posthole and bury a 8 foot (or longer) length of 18 to 24 diameter galvanized culvert pipe in the hole, with just 5 or 6 inches of the pipe showing above ground. Then attach some brackets to the top of the pipe (by welding or nuts and bolts to hold a small stock tank (90 gallons or less), so that the bottom of the stock tank completely covers the open end of the pipe. (The stock tank will appear to be mounted on a low pedestal.) The vertical pipe acts as a conduit for the warmer ambient ground temperature from the soil below the frost line. The beauty of this design is that it is essentially passive and there is no significant maintenance, once installed.

In the short term, however, you might do some searches on Craig’s List, and other Internet source for US Army surplus immersion heaters. These crank out a lot more BTUs than typical Chofus, and since they burn liquid fuel (mist were multi-fuel models, IIRC), they require less tending than a wood-fired heater. Of course all the usual safety provisos for liquid fuel burners apply.

Perhaps some SurvivalBlog readers will have some suggestions on other tank heater designs. (Hopefully including something that you can implement without having to wait until next summer.)