Advice for Water Sources, Waterers

Water Sources

 Horses always should have access to fresh, clean water. The average horse drinks at least eight to twelve gallons a day and even more in hot, humid weather, during lactation, or when eating dry feeds. Some lactating mares in hot weather drink more than one hundred gallons a day. A horse may drink less than ten gallons a day when weather is cold or if eating lush pasture (high moisture content). In cold weather a horse will be more inclined to drink adequate water if it’s warmed, reducing risk of impaction.

 Place your waterer in an area sheltered from wind, to reduce windblown debris and dust in the water, and on a slightly elevated spot where rain or snow melt will drain away, so horses’ feet won’t churn the footing into a mud bog. Build up the site if necessary, and cover it with several inches of gravel. A water tank or trough should be in an open area of the pasture or paddock, or along a straight section of fence, not in a corner where low-ranking horses might get trapped. A molded plastic tank is probably the safest for outdoor horses and is also easy to move or clean. Put an automatic waterer snugly against a fence post or building wall, or a few feet away from it so a horse could never get a leg caught. When selecting a pasture waterer, consider how many horses will use it.
 A stock tank with a float is the most inexpensive type of waterer for a number of horses. A cement tank is hardest to clean. There are round plastic waterers with a regulator valve at the bottom that opens when the water level goes down. When installing an automatic waterer, you must dig a water line (and put in an electrical line if you want a heating unit). Locate buried phone, electrical, water, or drain lines before digging. The trench must be at least four to six inches wide, and a foot deeper than the frost line in your region — usually three to five feet — to keep the water from freezing, so you will never have the unpleasant task of having to dig it up in the winter.
Water lines under driveways or areas with vehicle or horse traffic must be deeper; impact on the ground drives the frost deeper. The ground under a road will freeze deeper and stay frozen longer in spring. Install an accessible shutoff valve at some point between the waterer and main water line, so the water can be turned off if the automatic waterer malfunctions. A hydrant should be freeze-proof and self-draining (water drains out of the upright pipe, deep into the ground, each time you turn the hydrant off) so there’s no water left in it to freeze. Hydrants should be located where horses can’t get to them — to prevent injury to the horses and to keep a playful horse from nibbling the handle and turning on the water. Some stall waterers use a float; others have a moveable ball that rolls out of the way while the horse drinks (letting water in), and some use a balance beam.
The latter has a drinking bowl on one end and a weight on the other end as a counterbalance. When the horse drinks, the balance is altered and the beam tips, opening a valve to refill the bowl — returning the beam to its balanced position, which closes the valve to turn off the water. If you don’t want automatic waterers in stalls, you can put a recessed faucet in each stall wall (out of the way so a horse cannot run into it or chew on it).
This makes watering easier than dragging a hose through the barn. Some waterers need electricity for a heating unit to keep them from freezing in winter; others are designed to keep the water circulating, which helps prevent freezing. The most common non-electrical waterers are insulated by a Styrofoam container and are often small, covered troughs with drinking holes protected by a floating ball.
The horse pushes the ball out of the way with his nose when he drinks. Horses unaccustomed to this type of waterer may not drink. You may have to adjust the float to keep the water level low enough to allow the ball to float below the drinking hole until horses get used to drinking, then the ball can be allowed to float at normal surface level once the horses have figured it out. In a pasture with many horses, or any large pasture, it’s wise to have two or more waterers, preferably of different types. Then if one fails, the horses will still have access to water. Automatic waterers should be checked daily, preferably twice a day, to make sure they are working properly, and cleaned as often as needed. A waterer that is not checked may get dirty or have a drowned mouse or bird floating in it for days.
 Waterers with large bowls are often easiest to clean, as are those with removable panels on the side for easy cleaning and maintenance of internal parts. Some types have a drain at the bottom that makes them easy to clean. In a paddock or stall you need a tub or bucket, water tank, or automatic waterer. The safest arrangement for a foaling stall is a removable tub or bucket rather than a permanent fixture that could be an obstacle to mare or foal. A manger with feed box, hay area, and water-bucket holder is often built into the front of a stall.
It should be thirty-eight to forty-two inches high to keep the horse from putting his feet into it and sloped inward at the bottom so he won’t hit his knees when eating or drinking. Most water and feed buckets are made of rubber or plastic — which has a lot of give if a horse falls on it or leans against it — but beware of sharp hardware (edges of hooks or grommets) embedded in them. Some rubber tubs contain nylon fibers made of a material similar to automobile tires. They are quite durable, but over time the fibers may become exposed, and a horse may chew on them. Eating the indigestible fibers can cause digestive problems and sometimes intestinal blockage. If a tub becomes ragged, replace it. Plastic is more brittle than rubber, especially in cold weather. Recycled plastic is not as durable as virgin plastic for withstanding thumps it might get from a horse or from you beating the ice out. Many plastic buckets are made of polyethylene resin, which is more durable. Choose a tub or bucket with one-piece construction with no seams, to be most durable and crush-proof. Rubber-polymer alloy buckets rarely crack in cold temperatures. Some manufacturers put UV inhibitors in plastic to help keep it from being damaged by sunlight — sun damage makes plastic weak and brittle and more apt to crack. In cold weather you may have to break ice out of a tub, bucket, or tank daily. Electric water warmers are sometimes used in buckets or tanks but can be dangerous if they malfunction or create a potential fire hazard in a barn. In hot weather you may have to clean out algae or moss. It’s often easier to empty and clean a tub or tank that you fill by hose than it is to clean an automatic waterer. Tanks with automatic filling devices get dirtier because they are always full and may need to be emptied and scrubbed once a week. Some horsemen use goldfish in a large tank to help keep algae under control, but fish occasionally die; their decomposing bodies pollute the water.


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