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Options for keeping winter water open

Water supp??lies need to be reliable but also safe

A number of heating systems can be used to keep water open 
and available to cattle during winter.

Providing adequate stock water can be a frustrating challenge during colder months. Having adequate water and keeping it ice-free is not a simple task. In some pastures, water availability is also an issue.

Trey Patterson, CEO of Padlock Ranches in Wyoming, says one of the challenges is keeping water thawed.

“If you have multiple groups of cattle in various locations and have to chop ice, it can be labour intensive,” he says. “You need a system in which drinking water stays open. We have a combination of systems on our ranches. In some areas we simply chop ice. We don’t have enough labour to do that on every water source, so one of the water systems we’ve developed in pastures where winter cattle is a well that runs into a linear water line. Along that line there are several stock tanks. These are concrete tanks, buried in the ground. This takes advantage of ground heat, to keep the water a little warmer so it won’t freeze.”

For winter watering, herdsmen open a portion of each tank, and the rest is underground and partially buried and mounded over the top. There’s a lid on the tank if they need access to work on the float if needed. Even if some ice develops on the front (open) part, the water underneath is warmer — there isn’t a foot of ice to chop. These tanks face south to catch more sun and also painted black.

“We also have some stock tanks above ground and use propane heaters to keep the water from freezing,” he says. “These basically work like a furnace. You can haul propane bottles or big propane tanks out to these tanks.”


Some ranches depend on ponds or dugouts for winter water. These water storage areas can supply stock water all winter, but often they freeze over, requiring daily ice-breaking along the edge for cattle to have access to water. Sometimes cattle walk out on the ice and fall through and drown.

The Padlock Ranch winters a lot of cows on dryland pastures, and some of those pastures rely on ponds/reservoirs for stock water. Patterson says when weather is very cold and they are chopping ice at the edge of a reservoir, pond or even a small stream, the ice gets thick and water levels change.

“The ice may be clear down into the mud,” he says. “You have to make sure you are getting through the ice into adequate water, so cattle can get a drink of water that’s out of the mud.

“What used to be the bank has changed because the water has receded and you are working farther out. Cattle have to walk on the ice to get to the water. It can be risky as cattle may fall through the ice during a thaw.”

One of the things they’ve done with ponds where they have to chop the ice back farther and farther to reach water is to fence off the pond. They use a battery-powered charger, and put the electric fence across the corner of the pond or reservoir. They pound posts on either side of the pond to carry the electric wire.

“With the rest of the pond/reservoir fenced off, the cattle only have access to the 10 or 15 feet where you want them to water,” he says. “This allows you to break ice in that location, get the ice away from the mud, with adequate access to water. You can always move the fence if you need to, but it keeps cattle from getting farther out where they might fall through.

“Sometimes we learn these solutions the hard way. Nobody wants to see a bunch of healthy cattle fall through the ice and drown, so we came up with this solution.”

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