7 Ways to Keep Livestock Water From Freezing

Fresh water is essential to livestock health—but how do you keep livestock water from freezing during cold winters? Here are 7 great solutions from our Community!

7 Ways to Keep Livestock Water From Freezing

Winter. It’s that time of year when the livestock water freezes! Really, is there anything worse?

Members of The Grow Network Community, Jeff and Tracy, wrote to me looking for suggestions about how they can keep livestock water from freezing. And as always, our community provided quality advice—everything from tried-and-true products to creative brainstorming! Below is a sampling of some of the amazing responses The Grow Network received. (And be sure to check out the comments for some more great ideas!)

7 Ways to Prevent Livestock Water From Freezing

#1—Cow Balls, wait … what?

Cow Balls Water Trough

Heidi knows of one solution that has worked well for her in the pastcow balls. That’s right: cow balls! They are large plastic balls that are used to cover the surface of the water tank. The balls decrease the amount of water on the surface that is exposed to the external cold temperatures. When ice does form, cows are able to break through the ice by pressing down on the balls with their noses. Genius!

#2—Insulated Plastic Bucket Holders

Insulated Bucket Livestock Water

Patrick says that he has had success using insulated plastic bucket holders. These plastic holders are fastened to the wall and have an opening on the top that is the right size for a plastic 5-gallon bucket. Some of them even come with a food-grade 5-gallon bucket!

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Foam insulation helps to keep the water from freezing! Patrick likes this solution, but he said that he does have some trouble when temperatures get very coldbelow about 15F.  When temperatures get below 15F, he said that he then resorts to using a submersible electric warmer.

#3—Fish Tank Heater

Lyn wrote in and suggested that using a fish-tank heater in the bottom of a livestock tank might work.  She suggested using solar power, if possible, and also pointed out that cattle can be destructive, so it would be important to make sure that any cables are either buried or placed inside metal conduit and anchored to a 4″ x 4″ post. What a clever suggestion!

#4—Creating Movement

Livestock Water Tank Deicer

DJ suggested that creating movement in the watering system would be a good way to prevent freezing. Basically, the idea is to copy nature and create a simulated brook. This idea should work in areas where the nighttime lows aren’t too terribly cold.

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A small pump could also be used, or perhaps a simple water wheel device. There are a few products available online that do this, like the one below. You can also find these products available from any farm supply stores, like Tractor Supply. Usually, they are sold under the title of “water circulators.”

Protecting Smaller Water Troughs Using Innovation

Below are a few great ideas from the community that seem like good solutions for those of you trying to protect smaller watering troughs. Let’s take a closer look:

#5—A Tire

Old Car Tire to Prevent Livestock Water from Freezing

Gerry knows of a tried-and-true trick that works to keep water thawed out in a 5-gallon bucket. Find an old tire that fits securely around the bucket, and fill the inside of the tire with rocks. Then, place the bucket inside the tire. Voilà!

Leave the tire and bucket outside in the sun so that they are able to warm up all afternoon. The black of the tire will absorb warmth from the sunshine and the rocks will help to retain some of that warmth. When night falls, the warmth of the tire and rocks will help to keep the water from icing over, and it should remain thawed until morning. Awesome idea, Gerry!

#6—Olive Oil

Olive Oil

Lyn had an idea to experiment with—and she admits that while she hasn’t tried this yet, she is certain that the olive oil could work to protect a small watering trough from freezing.

Since the olive oil will not freeze, pouring a thin layer on top of the water’s surface could help to protect the water from developing a layer of ice. Olive oil should be safe for the cattle, and it just might be an inexpensive and simple solution!

#7—Pure Innovation: Thinking Outside the Box!

Last but not least, DJ has an experimental idea that may help a small water trough. His idea is to submerge some sort of a grid into the waterpreferably something with a handle attached so that this device can be easily moved around to break up any ice near the top.

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This idea, of course, would have to be done as the ice forms. DJ pictures something like an old ice cube tray or perhaps using black plastic to create a waffle grid. This sounds like an interesting idea … and I think it just might work! Might be a million dollar product for any of you aspiring inventors out there!

What Do You Think?

Well, I know there are a lot of other ways to prevent livestock watering systems from freezing that we did not cover here. But, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know of your favorite product or a tried-and-true method you use to prevent your livestock water from freezing!


This is an updated version of an article was originally published March 26, 2015.

The Grow Network is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for our team to earn fees for recommending our favorite products! We may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, should you purchase an item after clicking one of our links. Thanks for supporting TGN!

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This post was written by Marjory Wildcraft


  • matt hogan says:

    I have a chicken waterer made out of a 5 gallon bucket from the bakery with chicken nipples in the bottom. To keep it from freezing, I have heat tape (designed to keep pipes from freezing) wrapped around it, secured by duck tape.

  • Matt says:

    Here’s another way to help prevent water freezing in a trough. From 6 feet underground and below temperatures stay in the 50 F to 60 F zone year round, depending on location. Dig down and put a coil of 1000 ft irrigation tubing and a small solar powered pump to circulate water down to the warmth and back to the trough.

    1. Nicky says:

      Where do you get a solar pump that won’t break the bank?! The only ones I can find cost thousands of $s

  • Darryl Coleman says:

    I liked the olive oil suggestion. I have chickens and I have had to take fresh water out every couple of hours, and I bring the waterer in at night. My question is this: Instead of olive oil (which is not always pure), how about organic coconut oil…

    1. Ashley says:

      While olive oil will stay liquid, organic coconut oil will turn to a solid at temps well above freezing.

      1. P groba says:

        Olive oil freezes. I store it there. It solidifies in refrigerator too.

  • Alex says:

    These articles on keeping the water trough from freezing makes us here in western Canada chuckle.
    Last Winter in Winnipeg they had water pipes freeze that were buried 8 feet deep in the ground!

    1. MJ says:

      Exactly! Same in Montpelier, Idaho. It gets colder than Alaska here some years. None of these solutions would work here for more than twenty minutes max. Spendy submersible water heaters are the only thing 🙁

  • Emily says:

    I bought water dispensers built into underground pipes. There is a small amount of water in the raised metal dispenser, and it circulates. They are expensive, but a permanent solution.

  • Susan says:

    We have kept water troughs from freezing by piling fresh manure around the sides of the tank, not where the stock come to get a drink, but the rest. Really surprised no one suggested this! The decomposing manure creates heat, and keeps the tank from freezing and even can warm the water somewhat for the picky ones!

  • Jake White says:

    We have a water tank that we are trying to keep warm during the winter months, and this article gave us some very helpful ideas. We will try some of these starting with the idea to use a fish tank heater, which hopefully will solve our problem. Thanks for sharing these ideas with us!

  • Jimerson says:

    I love the idea of not having to use electricity to keep water thawed!

  • Lea says:

    Ok so we’re in not so cold central Texas, but I think I’ll try the tires, but instead of rocks, I’ll use leftover sheet insulation. My hubby is a contractor so we always have plenty of bits stashed around!

    1. Russell says:

      Hi Lea, Just a thought insulation material will prevent the heat from the black tire transmitting to the water bucket, just my thoughts not required for me I have no live stock. rocks should be good.
      I have seen whole deer carcass cooked in a pit with hot rocks from a fire when laid with vegetation to keep dirt off and buried with the soil from the pit. Still thinking solutions! Regards, Russell

  • ThistleDew says:

    I know that the intent of this article was to address the problem of water freezing in tanks that are above ground containers, but it reminded me of something. Here is Texas, cattle drink from large man-made ponds called “stock tanks”. When I lived in Kentucky, I knew farmers who kept ducks so that their paddling around would stir up the water in the cattle ponds and keep it from freezing.

    1. Emily Sandstrom says:

      Duck poop contaminates the water, especially after a while. Possible health threat.

  • Louise LK says:

    I liked the insulated 5 gallon bucket, but there is another system that most people find hard to understand that would work exceptionally well with said bucket. It requires the use of a strong salt water solution. You would mix salt with water and put that into a sealed plastic container. You would then submerse that container inside the five gallon bucket. Since the salt water will not freeze as readily as the fresh water around it, it will keep the fresh water fluid until the salt water gets to cold to stay liquid.
    This will not work in those areas where it gets bitter cold and it’s important that the salt container doesn’t leak into the fresh water. For maximum protection use a large salt water container and submerse in an insulated waterer that is not directly exposed to the elements.
    Note that a waterer inside a building should not usually be placed directly on the floor, which may cause it to freeze faster.

  • Emily Sandstrom says:

    I bought hydraulic waterers for five different pens. They have containers that hold the water source about 4 feet high, they circulate the water, and they heat it too I think. Have to keep them clean. Cost $8,000 in 1996.
    When I have a sick animal in a wooden ‘house,’ I go out there every few hours and put hot rocks in their milk or water. I heat the rocks in the oven.

  • Bob Martin says:

    We have nine months of below freezing temps and two of the months are minus 30. I used R-21 insulation on the top, bottom, and sides of our 110 gallon stock tank and covered all with plywood. There is a hole in the top big enough for a horned steer to drink from. It used to cost $450 per season for the tank heater, but now it costs about $75, because I don’t even have to turn the tank heater on until the temps get around 10 degrees. The cows love it and so do I. The tank heater is a 1500 watt and costs $45.00.

  • Bill Cochrane© says:

    I have a stove that was constructed from 1/4″ steel with a 6″ pipe. The door is simply a heavy plate of steel with an adjustable draft. The stove is 18Hx18Wx24L rectangular ‘box’ at the bottom with the door at the top of a 12x12x30 angled chute. It’s kinda like an Apache FireHole or Paiute FireHole. I think some ppl call it a Dakota FireHole. Any how, this stove burns wood, used oil, or I have used a TigerTorch(propane) in it. But it was actually made to burn wood.
    It’ll keep a 10ftLx36″x36″ totally ice free in pretty much any cold we can get in central Manitoba. A few winters ago we had an entire 10 days of -50*C to -56*C mornings and down to -47*C being the high for the day. The trough iced only at the farthest reaches(ends and corners
    Many days the water in the trough is actuall warm, like swimming temp. That’s usually when kids are visiting and they want to keep the fire going good. Although it’s not that healthy for the animals to drink warm water when it’s cold cold the kids feel like they’re doing something wonderful.
    I like the idea of scoopin poop around the trough/tank. The idea of geo thermal I appreciatte but not practical for me.

  • Lisa Petrillo says:

    I have a 5 gallon galvanized metal chicken waterer. We have a heater we made from a cookie tin and a lightbulb. Make a hole in the side of the tin and place a lightbulb socket, repurposed of course, thread the cord through the hole and caulk the hole. We use a 40 watt bulb. The tin sits on a concrete patio stone at the edge of pen, inside the coop, and the cord threaded through the wire so there is not enough in the pen to interest the chickens. We live in Western NY and the water doesn’t freeze. You just need to go to a thrift store and find the best sized tin for your waterer!

  • Kathy.Myers.MT says:

    Mother Earth News has free plans to make a solar stock tank cover using plywood, 2x4s, some insulation, and black paint. It’s one of their most popular downloads in the last 20+ years. I have not made it (yet) but hear good things about this one from those who have made it. I plan to make mine with leftover lumber from other projects. I sometimes get “supplies” from construction sites (ask contractor for permission & only take from their “trash” pile or dumpster). That keeps the “trash” (sometimes very nice lumber, PVC, insulation, nail gun strips, shingles, etc.) out of the landfill and means free supplies, though obviously you don’t get a choice and may have to scout construction sites and keep your eyes peeled for what you need or can use. If you live in an area with lots of construction or if there are construction sites on your regular travel routes, this is very easy and only takes a few minutes of your time for free supplies.

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