Water In Winter

A frost-free fount eliminates chopping ice to water livestock when ponds, hoses and troughs are frozen.

By Oscar H. Will III | Illustration by Ray E. Watkins, Jr. | Photos By Jamie Cole

There are few winter chores more miserable than chopping ice so your livestock can drink. Even when you use a tank rather than a pond, you still have to manage hoses and have a frost-free water hydrant nearby. That means connecting, disconnecting and draining hoses to keep both the hose and the hydrant from freezing up.

Click the image to open a diagram of the fount installation.

Click the image to open a diagram of the fount installation.

There is a better way that is likely worth the investment if you water livestock through the winter in freezing conditions. When the ground isn’t frozen, consider installing a frost-free water fount, also called a frost-free stock waterer. Installation details will be specific to your particular model, but in general you can use the following steps, modifying as needed if you choose a non-electric, frost-free fount model.

Stock Waterer Installation Steps

  1. Survey your winter stock facilities, and determine where best to install the waterer.
  2. Call 811 to locate all utilities in the vicinity as you will need to run both electricity and water to the fount location. Consult your own private water and power maps to find the most convenient place to tap into those services and to be sure you’re not damaging any existing lines.
  3. Map out the route for your new water line and power line. We recommend burying the power and water lines; check local codes to determine how the electric line needs to be located relative to the buried water line. Resist the temptation to place them in the same trench unless your code specifically allows it. Hire an electrician if you have any doubts.
  4. Using your tractor-mounted backhoe, dig separate trenches for the water and electric lines from their connections to the location of the new fount. Dig the water trench 4 feet deep or 1 foot below frost-line depth—
    whichever is deeper.
  5. Install the water line and electric cable in their respective trenches, leaving enough extra length at each end to make the final connections.
  6. Where the water line will come up to the surface (beneath the fount), run it up, centered inside a piece of 4-inch-or-larger-diameter PVC pipe; or better, choose an insulated tube designed specifically for this purpose from your fount’s manufacturer. Don’t add any insulating material in the tube (meaning pipe or manufacturer’s tube). Allow the tube and water line to extend from the bottom of the trench to about 10 inches above grade.
  7. Drive a copper-clad steel ground rod next to the tube, leaving the rod top about 10 inches above grade. Bring the electric cable up against the outside of the tube in a similar fashion. Backfill the area around these installations to grade.
  8. Using the recommendation of your fount’s manufacturer, stake and build a concrete form using dimensional lumber around the perimeter of the fount’s installation site. The form will shape the concrete pad that will support and anchor the fount. Plan on about 8 inches total concrete thickness for the pad and about 2 feet of extension on all sides of the fount. Be sure to level the form.
  9. Calculate the approximate cubic feet of concrete you will need by multiplying the length and width (in feet) by the average depth (convert inches to feet by dividing by 12). If your pad is 4 feet x 3 feet x 8 inches (0.75 feet), you will need roughly 9 cubic feet, or one-third of a cubic yard. For jobs this small, you would be better off mixing your own bagged material than calling a concrete service. If your installation requires a cubic yard (27 cubic feet) or more of concrete, explore having it delivered. If you choose delivery, be sure to have everything ready before the truck arrives, including a means to get the concrete to your pad location if the truck cannot drive up to that spot.
  10. Pour the concrete into the form, smooth with a board, and work with a trowel to get a reasonably smooth and level surface across the pad and around the installed tube, ground rod and electric cable in the center. Brush or otherwise make rough the surfaces that will be exposed after installation to help livestock with traction. Allow the concrete to cure. Protect from rain, but keep moist in hot weather until cured.
  11. Trim the tube as recommended by the fount manufacturer; trim the ground rod if needed; trim the water line, and install a shutoff valve at its end.
  12. Using appropriate stainless-steel anchors, install the fount on the concrete pad using the manufacturer’s instructions. Connect the water and electric lines, electric ground (call an electrician if you have any doubts) and backfill to the edges of the pad with crushed rock or other packable material to keep the area from becoming muddy and to offer the animals firm footing.
  13. Connect the water line to its source, and backfill the trench.
  14. Connect the electric line to its source with an easily accessible shutoff switch, and backfill the trench.
  15. Adjust the fount for optimal water level, and confirm that its heat source works. You can turn off the electricity during warmer months.

A CB75 backhoe paired with a 1800 M Series tractor will help you dig where needed for the frost-free hydrant. Bucket widths of 10″, 12″, and 16″ give you options for any other job on the farm.