Tired of banging frozen water buckets or carrying fresh water bucket by bucket from the house to the barn? Automatic waterers with heaters make winter chores easier while encouraging your horse to continue drinking all winter long.

Automatic livestock waterers serve water on demand without struggling with hoses, hauling water or spending hours cleaning large water tanks. These units come equipped with an optional heating element that eliminates the winter frustration of keeping water unfrozen. 

These units tend to have rounded sides without sharp edges, so they are safe for horses to use. Their galvanized bowls are easy to clean, and the units are insulated to ensure cost savings on electricity. 

But automatic waterers are not completely “automatic” without some effort on your part. It is important to check your waterer daily to make sure it is functioning properly. It would not be smart to just assume it is okay; a horse that goes too long without access to water can experience significant health issues, particularly to the digestive tract. 

For those owners and managers who want to know not only if the horse is drinking, but how much, consider adding a water intake monitor so you can check how much each horse is drinking each day while they are in their stalls or in individual paddocks.

Occasionally on automatic waterers, a valve jams and water keeps spilling out, flooding the surrounding area. No matter whether the waterer is in a stall or pasture, it is best to install it a sufficient distance away from where the horses are fed in order to minimize debris and contamination that could cause valves to stick.

Adding an optional heater to an automatic waterer is ideal for winter climates. But remember that just because these units are heated doesn’t mean the pipes feeding them won’t freeze. With this in mind, all precautions must be taken to keep the incoming pipes warm by using heat tape and insulation on exposed pipes when necessary, and plumbing in the lines below the frost level. Also, make some effort to block any drafts coming into the barn that could impact the pipes and/or cause the water heater to work harder and be less cost-efficient.

Automatic waterers in fields and stalls are a blessing in all types of weather, but when the temperatures drop, you’ll be happy for every bucket of water you don’t have to carry because you have a heated automatic waterer.

There are many livestock waterers on the market that will work in horse operations. Look for the type that best suits your farm or stable, ask friends what they use and like, and compare what companies offer in your area. Remember, the waterer is only as good as the installation. 

By Nancy S. Loving, DVM