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Winter weather brings challenges associated with watering livestock

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As temperatures begin to dip below the freezing point, University of Wyoming Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley says there are several strategies to keep water tanks open, even when frigid cold weather sets in. 

From tried and true methods like moving water tanks to more recent developments including the use of solar “bubblers,” numerous strategies are available.

Traditional methods

To avoid frozen water tanks, Paisley says, “Moving water is best, so many operations build in an overflow system to keep tanks open.” 

He continues, “In my case, I have a solar well and rotate the float up so it runs continuously when there is sunlight.” 

Combining the running water with a black tire tank that retains heat, Paisley says he very rarely has to break ice on that tank. 

Some ranches partially bury their water tanks to retain some heat. 

“One Glendo rancher, Larry Cundall, has a tank that was essentially built into the side of the hill, with drinking access on about one-third of the tank,” Paisley describes. 

Paisley also suggests strategically constructing semi-buried tanks to make sure they are south facing and perhaps partially covered. 

“Other ranches have semi-buried tanks that are incorporated into their pipeline system,” Paisley suggests. “They have both the warmth of the earth and the continuous flow of water through the system.” 


Water troughs and tank heaters provide an additional option for ranchers that many are familiar with. 

“Ball-covered troughs take some training, but they are very effective,” Paisley says. “A more recent option is solar ‘bubblers.’”

Solar bubblers incorporate the use of small air pumps powered by solar panels that continuously bubble, creating water movement.

Farm Show magazine reported that a new solar bubbler is a 10-watt unit that powers the underwater aerator. 

Rose Kern of Solar Ranch Products in Albuquerque, N.M., told Farm Show, “It works great in ponds up to a six-foot depth and in stock tanks. Up to two inches of ice on the pond shouldn’t be a problem, as long as there’s water beneath it and we have plenty of sunshine.” 

Kern cautioned, however, areas where ice freezes too thick overnight or there isn’t sufficient sunlight can pose a challenge. 

“We’ve had people use them in the mountains of Utah and Colorado, though,” she adds.

“More and more operations are looking for options to keep water from freezing, since we have fewer people taking care of larger numbers of cattle,” Paisley says, noting that producers with innovative solutions for keeping water from freezing should reach out and share their solution. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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