Did you know that for every 1 lb of dry matter a cow eats, it needs to drink about 7 lbs of water? Considered an essential nutrient, water plays a crucial role in the biological function and milk production of cattle. Cows should always have constant access to fresh water. However, winter weather adds an extra challenge to watering systems with freezing temperatures.
Water must be kept above freezing temperatures to remain liquid, but there is another reason to not let the temperature get too low. The rumen’s ideal temperature is 101° – 102°. Drinking water that is too cold will bring the overall temperature down, impacting digestion negatively until their bodies warm up again. Below are some examples of methods to keep your water systems from freezing over.
Electric Heaters: For water units that aren’t located in the warm barn, an electric tank heater can help keep water above freezing levels. There are also heaters that can be submerged into the water that won’t distract cows. Keep cords wrapped up or hidden, so cows can’t step on or bite them. Check often for cord issues and fraying. If the power goes out, these systems will end up failing unless your operation has a generator.
Water Surface: Breaking the surface tension of water can help to prevent a complete freeze over. Some operations use rubber balls that float to prevent ice from completely covering the surface. Cows only need to nose the ball down to grab a drink. Other farmers have suggested throwing plastic bottles of salt water in their tanks as well with a similar effect. Keeping water moving also prevents freezing. Some operations like an automatic watering system while others prefer a water circulator to keep contents moving.
Insulation: Pipes and plumbing apparatus should be wrapped in an insulating material to help prevent pipes from freezing. Some farmers use tires filled with rocks to insulate their water tanks. The tires absorb heat from the sun during the day, and the rocks help to keep the heat longer and evenly distributed to help prevent freezing.
Cash, Priscilla. “6 Winter Tricks That Keep Livestock Water From Freezing.” Off the Grid News
Wiseman, Ted. “Livestock Water is Essential, Even in Winter.” Dairy Herd Management