During the recent cold snap, I was having my usual problems keeping all the animals watered. There are two main issues to deal with. First, all the water on our long, skinny farm-let originates at the top of the hill at the house. Miles of hoses with various junctions and side shoots and connectors and whatnot distribute water from the tap at the top to animal and poultry pens all the way down to the bottom of the hill. It is not practical to coil up all those hoses and drag them inside each night. Leaving them dripping works as long as the temperature doesn’t dip too low, though it does waste water and results in nasty little ice patches all over the place. The other problem is that the hoses zig and zag, go up and over obstacles and around corners and without fail, those bends and kinks are where ice blocks form, shutting down the system downstream from the blockage.
After I win the lottery (or, maybe I should try one of those crowd funding projects) I will install a frost-free in-ground water system with frost free taps all over the place… But until then, when the hoses freeze I am stuck schlepping hot water in containers from the house.
The water needs to be hot because the second problem that develops is the water in the various buckets and tubs freezes. When it isn’t seriously cold, it isn’t hard to smash through the layer of ice on top to get to open water below. When it stays cold for several days or when the temperatures plunge, the layer of ice is too thick to break.
This problem of the top layer freezing was addressed in the current issue of Small Farm Canada (with thanks to regular reader, blogger, and fellow farmer, Sailors Small Farm for pointing this out…). In a short how-to article it was suggested that a piece of closed cell foam insulation cut to fit inside the bucket would keep the water from freezing. The example shown was for a small pail being used by chickens. Holes large enough for the chickens to dip their beaks in had been cut in the foam so the birds could get at the un-frozen water.
As it turned out I had some of this stuff around and thought it might work to stop the goat water container from freezing over.
First I roughly measured the foam – and cut it to size.
I cut a small opening on one side so they could get their muzzles in to drink.
Then, I waited to see what would happen. The goats drank out of the gap just fine and immediately under the foam lid the water did not freeze. But, all around the edges, ice formed the first night. The ice layer grew thicker and it became increasingly difficult to peel off the layer of foam each morning so the goats could get at the ever-smaller water hole in the middle. By the fourth day, the foam was completely frozen into the surface and disintegrated when I tried to peel it back.The opening was the first part to freeze, which wasn’t too surprising…After a few days of being able to peel back the foam, it froze to the surface and came apart when I tried to lift it…It was impossible to remove the last shred of insulation… I went back to the old system of pouring piping hot water into the bucket to thaw a hole and warm up the rest of the water enough that the goats would have a good, long drink.
The article suggests that the system is most useful inside a hen house where the temperature is right around freezing but not seriously cold. I’d have to say that when this is the case it really isn’t that big a deal to chip a hole in the skim of ice anyway. Alas, much as I had hoped this would be a great solution to my bucket-freezing problems, it seems I will have to keep looking for other methods and keep experimenting.