Winter Water Management for Beef Cattle
It is estimated that the water requirements of beef cattle remain consistent up to about 40 °F and go up to the point of needing twice the amount of water at 85° F. If all is working well at the water source, there are usually no problems with meeting requirements during the winter. However, the issues with water in the winter are based on the waterers freezing and/or ice developing on the approach to or the base of the waterer.
Freezing: According to Ritchie Industries the main causes of freezing are a heater that burns out or a failed thermostat. Extended cold periods will tax the electrical system especially as the unit ages. Other causes can be something that allows cold air into the unit such as a crack or seal failure at the base of the system as well as too few of cattle for the size of the waterer.
Ice: Ice build-up can come from a leak or from cattle splashing water out of the drinkers. Both cases should be investigated closely because there could be a voltage issue that needs to be fixed. Since many waterers are electrified, more serious shocks are possible if water is leaking inside the unit.
Dealing with the ice: The concern with ice build-up is cattle slipping and injuring themselves as well as certain animals may not return to drink until they feel it is safe. You can chip away the ice or layer a 50% salt and 50% barn lime mixture to both provide grip and melt the ice.
Sources: Water Requirements of Beef Cattle University of Nebraska Publication G2060. Ritchie Industries Inc. FAQ section of the website
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