Letter: Homesteaders with Livestock in Harsh Winter Climates


As with so many of us who have livestock and live in regions where cold winter temperatures pose a challenge in keeping water troughs thawed. For so many of us the default has been to place a 1000 – 1500 watt heater in the stock tank which does a wonderful job. However, when you have many pens of animals and therefore many stock tank heaters, you can almost watch the electric meter spin as your electric bill increases day by day. At one time I wrapped several of our large 300 gallon galvanized tanks with a flexible foam material and covered much of the top with a board leaving a space for animals to drink from. This did reasonably well but posed some challenges when it came time to clean the tank.

Submerged Aerator

One day as I looked out into our backyard, which has a pond with a submerged aerator, I came up with an idea. The stream of bubbles from the aerator keep the pond from completely freezing over leaving a central open area. I then decided to apply that principal to our tanks. While I first tried a farm wide system with a single large air pump and a set of distribution air lines, I have more recently gone to placing an inexpensive (about $12) aquarium pump in an enclosed, protected container near each tank with air lines and stones submerged on the bottom of the tank.

While the aerator and attached air stones will be sufficient if temperatures are in the 20’s, I usually also provide a submerged 250 or 500 watt heater that I place close to the air stones. A dual output aquarium pump works better than a single one.

We have had subzero temps several days so far and this has done amazingly well. While the attached heaters do add to our electric bill, the total usage is far less than when we have the larger 1000-1500 watt heaters. Also, if animals chew on these air lines and stock tank heater cords, take an old piece of garden hose and slice it lengthwise. Place the air lines and/or cord inside the hose and use intermittent pieces of electrical tape wrapped around it to hold it together and protect the lines. – DDH in OH


  1. There are a lot of methods for keeping drinkers open in cold weather that do not use any electricity, or use just a minimal amount. Freeze proof drinkers work well but come with an upfront cost. They also keep algae from growing during the summer. I don’t want to write an article here so I’ll refer those who are interested to a book by Jim Gerish called Kick The Hay Habit. Available on Amazon. Expensivem but worth it. He’s got a chapter in there on water systems that addresses freezing.

  2. I am not a rancher, and I have not personally tried this, but i did read an article one time about the following technique.

    The article basically stated that you could take a 2 foot diameter tinhorn (or culvert) and bury it vertically (i think they recommended 8 to 10 feet in length). The top end of the tinhorn should be level with the ground. Place your stock tank on top of the upended tinhorn. The natural temperature below the frost line will add heat to the stock tank water and vastly reduce freezing. There is significant labor involved, but this would greatly reduce electricity needs.

    1. I was wondering about using the heat from the ground as well. Also wonder if anyone has tried digging a hole and adding organic material, thus creating a composting reaction and getting more heat from the hole?

  3. Here is my set up:

    Put a sheet of 6 mil plastic on the ground and center the stock tank on it. Wrap the sides of the tank with fiberglass insulation then pull the plastic up to cover the insulation and tie it off at the top lip of the tank. I used a ratchet strap for ease of installation but a rope would work. Now cut off the excess plastic.
    Now get a piece of 2″ insulated foam board and a light piece of shower liner and cut both to loosely fit the inside of the tank. Cut a small opening in the foam for the animal to drink through, put the shower liner (fiberglass I am guessing) on top of the foam to keep the critters from chewing on the foam. Get a SUBMERSIBLE tank heater with a thermostat built in so it shuts down when not needed.
    Total investment is about $100 if you have to buy everything new. But running a 1500 watt tank heater runs about 20 cents an hour so you will recoop your investment in a couple seasons depending on the weather.

  4. Once there is snow on the ground my sheep eat snow all winter, I keep a pile of snow in a big plastic pan in the chicken coop for the chickens all winter. But when we are lambing the Ewes in a jug gets a bucket of water every day…

  5. My neighbor down the road, just this year, placed his stock trough into a small, open front shed. He then closed off the ends with six inch pipe set in cement so the critters wouldn’t try to squeeze pass to get in, then he hung strips of canvas down from the top ( think of the freezer case at cosco). I didn’t think it would work but with only a 200watt flood light on a thermostat it has not frozen yet. FYI coldest night +18F so YMMV.

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