January 2023 Update
Christmas was cold. Not just cold, but like, disrespectfully cold! Kentucky usually doesn’t see winter weather that is dangerous to be out in, but December 23rd was such a day.
The Mesonet weather station at the farm measured the extremes of those three days. We had five consecutive days with lows of at least 12° F. During the worst of the weather on Friday, Eden Shale experienced a low of -8° F with wind gusts of up to 41 mph recorded. This resulted in a measured windchill of -33° F.
This harsh weather showed me how resilient our cattle can be. When in good health and having access to proper nutrition, cattle are able to withstand some pretty extreme conditions. But I still felt sorry for them that day as I packed buckets of grain through the wind and snow to make sure they had a belly full of energy. (Image 1)
Once fed, each group needed a drink of water. And as everyone reading this knows, that was the hard task of the day. However, three of the five water tanks were open and functioning as designed that morning.
The first tank was a Ritchie trough style water tank in the barn with an electric heater keeping it open. Cheating I know, but nice none the less.
The second tank that was open was a tire water tank. This tank had an insulative lid that covers 2/3’s of the surface allowing the cows to drink from each side. There were 97 cows using this tank and it was still open and functioning properly. Having that number of cows drinking replenishing the water with warmer water from under ground, and having some woods nearby that served as a windbreak, both aided in the tire not freezing.
The third tank that was functioning normally was Dr. Higgin’s tire tank with the automated lid that I highlighted last month. The lid on this tank covers the entire surface of the tire and it has watering pans located on either side. When the cattle walk up to the tank a pump fills the water pans to allow them to drink. When the cattle leave, the water turns off and drains back under the lid and down into the tire. This means there is no water left exposed to freeze while the cattle are not present. This tire watered the cattle unassisted for the duration of the extreme weather. (Image 2 & 3)
See below for a video of this design in action during the harsh conditions.
If you tend to livestock in the winter you undoubtedly face two time consuming chores: Feeding hay and keeping water sources thawed. Dr. Higgins has dedicated a lot of time and effort addressing these two issues for Kentucky producers, and I would like to highlight the later.
To date we have installed 16 tire water tanks at Eden Shale. They range from 4 ft to nearly 9 ft in size. These tire tanks are excellent at housing a large volume of water and allowing 12-14 mature cows to drink at once, which is a huge benefit during the warm grazing months when cattle’s water consumption is at the highest. But on the flip side, once the temperatures go below freezing the exposed water will turn to ice.
There are a lot of factors that determine how low the temperatures can go before a tire waterer will freeze. For instance, how many animals are drinking from it, is the sun hitting the tire, how much wind does the tire get, etc. We find that generally the tires will stay thawed down to about 28-25 degrees depending on conditions. Anything colder, and ice will start to form.
Dr. Higgins has experimented with several methods that all help to keep the tires open. He has developed lids of varying shapes and applications that work well. He has also successfully used 12 volt pumps to keep the surface of the water moving to slow the creation of ice. Most recently he has borrowed an idea from the Arctic, where water is not presented to the cattle until they are standing at the water tank ready to drink.
The concept is simple, an 8 ft tire waterer is completely covered with a homemade insulated lid. The lid consists of basic lumber, insulation, and a water proof type paint. The lid has two bowls that the cattle can drink from. These bowls stay dry until the cattle are ready to drink. When the cattle walk up to the tank, they are detected by a motion sensor which turns on a 12 volt pump below the lid inside the tire. This pump (a boat bilge pump) fills up the bowl so the cattle can drink. The motion detector keeps the pump running while animals are present, Image 2. Once the cattle leave the tank, the pump shuts off and the water in the bowl drains back down into the tire through the pump and through two small holes drilled into the bottom of the bowl, Image 1. This keeps the bowls dry so that there is no water exposed to the elements to freeze.
This system is powered by 12 volt marine batteries that are charged with both a solar panel and a wind turbine (pictured in the background) Image 3. During the winter months there are very few days that it is not either sunny, or cloudy and windy. This allows the system to charge most every day, and also on windy nights. An electronic controller manages the charging load to the batteries, as well as operates the 12 volt pump when water is needed. The entire system is self sufficient and requires no user input to operate.
This fall we have had livestock using this water tank with the lid installed and it has functioned correctly. However, as we get into winter its design will be tested with the colder weather. Stay tuned for updates as we collect data this winter and evaluate the application of this design.