What automatic waterer do you like for climates that freeze in winter

What automatic waterers do you have and would recommend for places that freeze in the winter like Southwest Michigan, it will sometimes dip below 0 and some winters we have stretches in the negatives? What are the pros/cons? The ones that are on the top of my list are the Varnan, I like the option of using a heating element but I’m thinking I could go through most of the winter relying on just the insulation, also like the open bowl concept–does anyone dislike this feature? The Cobett is another for similar reasons. I’ve been at a farm that has the Miraco Mira-Fount waterers which I really like but when we get a cold spell the ball would sometimes freeze and we’d have to dislodge it and add some hot water a couple times a day. I’d love to find a freeze free no electric type that would work here in Michigan, but it seems like they all have the potential to have freeze issues. What do you recommend for those in frigid climates? Has anyone used the BT suntanks? The bar bar a and the drinking fountain I think are out of contention I’ve read a number of comments about some issues with the lever/push mechanism getting frozen and I’ve got a couple that have to wear muzzles in the summer. If I have to go with heated, what would you recommend? Nelson?

I have no personal experience with automatic waterers. I can say that the zoo here uses Nelson waterers and they are happy with them. The waterers in unconditioned spaces do include a heating element and seem to work fine during the winter months.

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When I lived in the Lansing area I had a Nelson. Loved them and got them installed at the new place. The most important thing whatever you pick is to make sure the installer knows what they are doing. No matter what brand you get a crappy installer will cause problems.

I like the Nelsons because they are easy to clean and if you get the draft size they are easy to work on and my grazing muzzle fits. If you don’t have an installer you want to use PM me and I’ll give you the info of who I used in MI.

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I won’t use them. You can’t tell how much water your horse has consumed, so you have no idea if he’s drinking or not. If the waterer gets plugged up (which happens a lot where I am), the horse has about a quart of water until someone notices.

I have a Miraco. I’m in southern PA and the two winters it’s been in it hasn’t really been tested with a true sub zero cold snap. But, the float has been fickle and I wouldn’t use the brand again, I’d go with Nelson based on prior experiences. And will likely replace it with a Nelson eventually if we stay on the current place long term.


Love my Miracos. I’ve had 2 for about 20 years. Easy to get parts. Use submersible heaters in the winter. All my horses live out 24/7. No chopping ice in troughs or dealing with extension cords for heaters for me. I can’t imagine not having auto waterers.

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I have a related question about automatic waterers. Do any of the brands tell you how much water was consumed? Does it work well? My hesitation in getting them is not knowing if my horse is drinking enough.

I talked to Nelson about this. They offer a feature that says how many gallons of water your horse consumes. I thought it was an actual water meter of sorts. But it is not. It measures how long the water is activated and using ‘standard numbers’ calculates how much water the average horse consumes in that time.

I would assume you (general) could buy an inline water meter to put on the water line. Though I am not sure where. And that adds a freeze risk point.

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Nelson has that option or if you are handy you can just buy a water meter and add your own.

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We had Ritchie waterers when I was in N. Missouri and I was happy with them. They were already there when we bought the place. One of them did not have a heating element and was installed inside a 3 sided barn we used for the sheep/ cow and all we needed was a 100 watt lightbulb inside which kept the line and 2 bowls unfrozen on our coldest days.

Our climate does not compare with Michigan, though. In Minnesota I had no problems when I used one 16 gallon heated bucket for my 3. I had it just inside the barn. It was economical to heat. Never even got icy when the air temp was -20. We just watered 3 times a day but it was never close to empty.

With a bucket like that you know how much water is being consumed. I still have it and use it 10 years later.

When horses are out in a group you can’t tell how much they drink either.


I can see the point about not knowing their consumption but it only works if they are kept separate - alone in a stall maybe? And then you need two buckets at all times cuz we’ve all experienced boarding where you arrive and the bucket is empty. Eeeeek. Colic anyone?

My experience putting in Nelson’s is they are the by FAR my best decision out of MANY excellent design decisions in the build.

My horses drink from them ALOT. Maybe because the water stays fresh? I don’t know but every time I’m out there I see one of them drinking.

Way less water consumption - not dumping and wasting. And NO abuse on your body handling the buckets and water.

We installed the culvert pipe type - down 8ft in the ground and that helps with thermal warming. And they have electric heaters. And yes, the largest bowl too - to fit muzzles.

Major PIA to install but WOW are they a luxury. The only maintenance is wiping out the bowl every couple days. I mean really - that’s it. I do glance at them every time I go into the barn too - to be sure there is water. My neighbors have had theirs 35 years and said we HAD to do it in the build. They were right.

I’m in central Ohio just just south of you in SW Mich. :love_you_gesture:

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Thanks for your feedback! I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Nelsons. Have you found that you need to keep the heaters on all winter?

Do you have the Miracos with the balls they have to push down?

I kept them on all winter - they only kick on if the temp drops below a certain number. AND, if you go the route of the culvert pipe, the heater assembly sits inside suspended in the concrete pipe and sealed off from any debris or hay so don’t see how that would be any chance of fire hazard.

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