Water trough de-icer in a spot with no electricity?

Last spring we moved our goats and pigs to an area of our farm where there’s no electricity - and it’s too far for an extension cord. My husband built them a beautiful and cozy shed, which they love, so I’d like to keep them out there thru the winter. Only problem is I’m not sure how I’ll keep their water trough from freezing in the extreme cold. I thought there would be solar or battery powered heaters, but an initial search turned up very little. My husband (always the creative schemer) wants to build a bio thermal water tank using compost??? His idea is to run a copper loop through a compost bin next to the water trough and heat the trough with that “open loop”.
This sounds ridiculous to me, and what I envision is him throwing himself into this project for days (or weeks) and an end product that doesn’t work!!
Any thoughts or opinions from experienced farmers?

I think the short answer is that your options are very limited without electricity.

One option might be to use a solar panel to heat the water in the trough and use a stone or concrete trough. Those materials hold heat reasonably well. This will take a second panel to run a 12v pump to circulate the water unless you figure out a way to make it circulate on thermal energy only. You would likely have to use something like a deep cycle RV battery and change it daily (recharging it at the house) as winter days are short and lead-acid batteries lose efficiency in cold temps.

In truly extreme cold, however, you’ll either have to haul hot water or move the critters.

Good luck in your project.


His idea actually sounds great, and not too far off what an engineer I know suggested. He might also consider using an old radiator in a loop to improve water movement and gain access to solar heat. Also, check on COTH for discussions about how to build insulation around a tank with a small opening at the top that limits freezing.

How much would it cost to run a power line from your house to the shed?

what about those lilly pad things that people throw on their pools to keep them warm? maybe a small one?

I’ve also read that people will put a soccer ball in the trough that will float. the horses will push it to break the ice and get to the water. I’ve never donet his myself so no idea how it works.

I have a solar Bob trough that I bought from horse.com many years ago. It works well, as long as the float does not stick to the opening. I don’t know if they still make them.


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Are you going to haul the water out to the tanks? The solar tanks need to be refilled. In the past, cold locations, people complained about solar tanks not holding much water, problems with refilling often. Hauling water out is a pain, you slop it on you, things freeze fast in the very cold temps. The tanks with a ball to push away to drink, would freeze shut from drooling horses, so they could not get to the water. Had to vegtable oil the ball to prevent freezing, which was time consuming and messy.

My Grampa used a propane tank heater, which are still available though not cheap. They worked reliably for his pigs in a large shed, when he raised feeder piglets. You have to have a tank connected to the heater, protect the tank from bumping, maybe keep it outside the fence. I believe he had one narrow end sticking thru the fence for drinking, with the other end and heater, outside the fence for easy access to change tanks and protect it.

Covering the tank will aid in keeping in heat. We keep our winter water tanks in insulated boxes with covers, leaving only a small place for drinks. Saves on running the heater.

Doing a search for propane livestock water heaters, I found a lot of places to find such heaters. Here is one example"


I am sure you can probably resell such a heater for about what you pay for it, should you not like keeping animals out where the electric doesn’t reach. So no loss of money buying such a heater. Grampa used his heater for years, thought it was a good way to keep the piggies well hydrated in winter. And pigs need a LOT of water every day.

Here are some earlier posts on this subject -



We use a propane tank heater for our tank. It has a propane tank set there beside the fence, heater goes into the water. Similar to this one, but much, much older! https://www.murdochs.com/products/livestock-agriculture/livestock-equipment/feeders-waterers-tanks/parts/trojan-66b-propane-stock-tank-heater/

@TXPiaffe That looks so handy but my goodness, really expensive !

How long does the propane last once it is filled?

does not say, but the max heat produced is said to be 12,000 BTUs

using a propane calculator for a furnace it would use 3.15 Gallons per Day (94.48 Gallons per Month)

here is the manual for the heater

here is propane consumption calculator

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Mom fills the tank up in the fall and it lasts through the KS winter with just keeping the water above freezing. She had a skim of ice on it a couple days, but nothing the horses didn’t already break through by the time she did morning feeding.
Google Photos

is that a 120 gallon tank? 4 feet tall by 3 feet diameter. …

Clanter, It is only a 3’ tall tank and 5’ diameter. We refill it about every 4 - 5 days depending on the weather.


Here is one at Orschlen’s for almost half the price.

That is a little better price . Of course our Orscheln’s is always out of stock on what people really need!

Thankfully I get by with a 16 gallon heated tub. It is pretty economical to heat with. I am glad we have electric for our animal needs.

We had one of the propane tanks and it worked fine, other than needing to be up on refilling.

We didn’t get any more because it didn’t work well with our always high winds, kept blowing it out, but maybe where it is protected from the wind that would not be a problem?

Other we have used over years, a large inflated tractor tire inner tube a bit smaller than the width of the tank, maybe two or three, the inner ones smaller and smaller.
Horses and cattle would push it around and have open water under it, works fine until it gets really cold or you have few drinking out of the tank.
You have to fasten the inner tube to something, they can flip it out of the tank, especially horses.

Decades ago everyone had, for cattle, a metal 55 gallon barrel, top cut off, filled 1/4 with large rocks, filled about the top of the rocks with straight diesel you would set on fire when the metal or concrete tank was going to freeze and it would burn all night, some times a whole day and keep the water open.
Those lasted a few years until they rusted thru.
We didn’t use those, so can’t say exactly how safe that was, how to protect livestock from that open flame, maybe use them only in the middle of bigger tanks where they can’t reach the barrel, but then, how do you get to it to refill and set off?
Have not seen any of those for long time.