Tips for the Big Thaw – Pt II


Unbelievably, it\’s +2 degrees Celsius in Regina, SK, today! And to think that we were dealing with frozen waterers in the earlier part of this week… Even our barn horses had to go onto a half-day turn out schedule because we had no way of watering them properly outside throughout the day – the week\’s early windchills and sub-zero temperatures were constantly freezing the turnout water buckets.

Even still, as promised My Stable Life returns today with advice for worst-case frozen waterer scenarios. (If you\’d like to check out the week\’s previous installments, see Tips for the Big Thaw – Pt I and Frozen Waterers).


Currently, I don\’t have any pictures of a really frozen auto-waterer – which is a good thing, because we haven\’t really experienced them yet this winter. However, I do anticipate that I will probably have a great one for you by the time winter is through with us next spring… Let\’s just chalk it up to say that a frozen auto-waterer usually looks like a fountain of ice draping over one side, or a thick block of frozen water inside the water bowl. Or sometimes it may even look like a dry, empty water bowl because the waterline has frozen underneath the unit. Either way, they all spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.


Here are a few tips for dealing with frozen waterers for the upcoming cold weather:

1. Always check your auto-waterers every day to ensure they are working properly. Don\’t ever assume that because they are automatic, they will never experience any problems. And never, ever allow anyone to tell you that horses or cattle can survive on snow alone! Water is an essential basic necessity for every animal and is required on even the coldest of days.

2. Make sure that all necessary fuses or circuit breakers are working. Sometimes the fix is as easy as flipping a breaker switch.

3. If your waterer is freezing up partially or completely, check to see that there are no holes at the base of the unit. Air gaps allow for wind penetration. Make sure the fountain is sealed from wind between the concrete platform and bottom of casing or unit. Seal all holes or gaps with an an all weather sealant. Sometimes, placing a windbreak around the waterer may also help to keep the water bowl from freezing. For this reason, the water bowl should really only fill up to approximately half its capacity. Ensure the float or buoy has an isolation device over it to protect it from windchills and curious horses alike.

4. If you can verify that the hydrant is what is freezing, sometimes heat tape wrapped around it can prevent freezing that occurs as a result of a thin layer of ice building up inside the pipe. Just remember that any additional \”plug-ins\” inside the base of the unit – for example, heat tape, small heaters or light bulbs – can put too much pressure on the electrical capacity of the unit and cause the breaker to blow.

5. Check for missing or damaged insulation inside the base of the waterer. Make repairs as necessary. Mice underneath can wreak havoc for your water systems.

6. Check all heating elements to ensure they are working and are wired properly. Make sure the unit\’s thermostat hasn\’t failed by contacts burning closed.

7. If you think the water may be freezing in the valve or supply line, this is one of the hardest, most time-consuming situations to deal with. If you find yourself in this dire circumstance, it may be necessary to turn the shut-off valve to off and see if you can force 1 cup of animal safe salt or hot steam down the water line. Of course, doing so means you will temporarily have to disconnect the line from the water bowl.

These 2 strategies are tricks we have used several times with our waterers in the past and have found much success with them. However it is important to note that it may take several hours or even overnight for the salt to finally work, and steam applied must be done so manually – which means you\’re likely about to spend several hours outside yourself. If you use the salt, you can check to see if it\’s breaking up the ice inside the line by turning the shut-off valve to on again and seeing if any any water trickles out of the top of the line.

In the meantime, set troughs or buckets of water out for your animals until the water problem is resolved and constantly monitor them for ice build up.



1 thought on “Tips for the Big Thaw – Pt II”

  1. Judy Greenall

    Hairdryers & light bulbs..we have 4 automatic waters on our farm for the cows & horses..invariably one or all will freeze sometime during the winter.. we have gone through so many hairdryers!:)

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