Best Water Troughs For Horses
There is no shortage of daily barn chores when you have a horse, but arguably, the most important is ensuring there is always access to fresh drinking water. Fortunately, there are plenty of types of water troughs available on the market – but while this means you are likely to find the one that works best for your horse, it can be overwhelming when choosing between them all.
What are the best water troughs for horses? The best water trough is the one that most conveniently provides constant access to fresh water. Many horse owners choose to use metal or rubber tubs that hold 100-150 gallons of water. Other options include large buckets or automatic watering devices. The most important factors will be the tub’s capacity and how easy it is to clean.
To help you narrow down what might work best for your barn, let’s take a closer look at each of these options.
Large Water Troughs For Horses
Most horse owners prefer to use large water troughs for their horses. These may also be called stock tanks, and are widely available at most feed stores. There are a few different materials from which water troughs are made, and most will cost around $200 for a 150-gallon capacity. If you decide to use a water trough with this kind of capacity, it is important that you find one that has a drain at the bottom for convenience.
Metal Stock Tanks
Metal troughs (also called “galvanized” – which simply means it is treated to resist rust) are some of the most popular stock tanks for horses. They come in a variety of sizes and because of their durability, can also be found used and in good condition.
Metal holds up well to rowdy horses and does not crack in the freezing weather. The downside to metal is that it is heat-conducive, so when used during the hot Summer months, the water temperature will need to be checked frequently.
Plastic Stock Tanks
Plastic troughs are usually a bit cheaper than metal, but they are not as durable. They do not hold up as well to horses who decide to play in their water, and they can crack as they freeze.
Rubber Stock Tanks
Rubber is much more durable than plastic and can keep the water a bit cooler than metal. Empty troughs are light and easy to move around, and they will not crack in freezing weather. One of the most popular brands in this category is Rubbermaid.
I currently own several of these, and they’ve been a lifesaver with all of the moving around of the water tanks I’ve been doing because of the new addition to my herd. Here’s something similar to what I use on Amazon. Though, you may want to buy these at a local store if you want to get a really large one.
Using Water Buckets As Troughs For Horses
When it comes to water troughs for horses, the bigger the better, right? Not always. If you have a herd of horses in a large pasture, you will probably need to use 150-gallon troughs. But if you have one or two horses, you may decide that smaller tubs are more manageable.
I’ve used the large (20-gallon) sports buckets in a pinch before. This has worked surprisingly well for me in the hot Summer months for a couple of reasons. First, because they are small, they are easy to move around. This is important while I’m chasing the shade on especially hot days.
Second, 20 gallons can work well for one hot day. Horses can drink up to 10 gallons in a typical day, more when exercising or very hot. To limit algae, I like to start fresh every morning anyway, so a 20-gallon bucket is convenient to empty and refill daily.
If your horse is stalled, you may also decide a bucket is best for you. Most feed stores sell 10-gallon buckets that have one flat side. You can hang the bucket with the flat side against the wall, which works well for horse stalls.
You can even purchase hooks designed to lock the bucket into place so a curious horse cannot lift the bucket up and off of the hook. Because the capacity is lower, the water level must be checked throughout the day.
Using Automatic Waterers For Horses
Probably the most convenient watering device is the one that automatically fills itself. You can find automatic watering devices for horses for as little as $50 or as much as $1,000.
They are usually easy to install and can be used with a garden hose. There are more advantages to using automatic waterers than user convenience. They keep the water access constant, regardless of your horse’s fluctuating thirst levels. They keep the water cooler because it is replaced every time the horse drinks. They also tend to keep the water cleaner because the capacity is smaller and the water is always moving.
The main downside to automatic waterers is the maintenance. Anything that is hooked up to a hose or spigot can (and at one time or another, will) leak. If you are home and you are checking the device regularly, this may not deter you.
Another disadvantage to automatic waterers is that once they are installed, they stay put. Moist environments are breeding grounds for parasites like worms and coccidia. I like to move my water around when I can to keep my animals from congregating on wet ground. Here’s a popular automatic waterer on Amazon if you’re interested.
The Best Horse Water Troughs For Freezing Weather
Keeping your horse’s water from freezing can be tricky. Automatic watering devices can freeze at several points and may not be relied upon (except for heated devices). Smaller water buckets are easy to check on and re-fill, but the smaller the capacity, the more quickly water will freeze.
This leaves us with the larger water troughs – because rubber retains heat well, it will do a slightly better job than metal in keeping your water from freezing. That said, if it is cold enough, your water will freeze regardless of the trough. In this situation, you can try covering half of the trough with plywood or create a “double wall” around the trough using a tub larger than your trough and filling the gaps with straw as insulation.
You might also consider installing a water heater like this one to keep it from freezing. I use these in the winter, and they always seem to do the trick.
The Best Horse Water Troughs For Hot Weather
Horses will not drink as much if the water temperature is warm (and who can blame them?). Unfortunately, the water temperature is usually hot because the weather itself is hot, and this is when horses need water the most.
Options are more limited here, and the best things you can do are 1) keep the water in the shade, especially in the afternoon, and 2) frequently dump and re-fill. While automatic waterers can be advantageous in hot weather due to the constant re-filling, if your horse goes an hour or more between drinks, that small amount of water will heat up very quickly. If using an automatic waterer, make sure to install it in the shade and keep an eye on it during the peak temperatures.
Avoiding Algae Build-Up In A Horse Water Trough
In warmer weather, algae is a constant headache. Sunlight and heat will allow algae to flourish, so the best way to combat it is to keep your water in the shade.
Of course, the shade alone will not inhibit algae effectively if it is hot enough outside, so I’ve found that regardless of what tactics I use, I have to empty and scrub water troughs, buckets, and pans regularly (it is a good idea to disinfect with bleach every couple of cleanings as well).
If using a large trough, you may also decide to use goldfish. Goldfish are effective at eating algae (and mosquito larvae) and can keep the water cleaner. Of course, what goes in must come out, and the trough will need to be cleaned regularly to keep fish feces from accumulating. This works for some but creates more of a headache for others.
There are also copper tablets that can be added to large stock tanks to fight algae. Many ranches use these, and they are effective. Check with the manufacturer for safety precautions before using them. Most of them can only safely be used in large-capacity troughs (and none of them are safe if you also have sheep in the pasture – copper can be toxic to sheep).
Horse Water Troughs: Trial And Error
It took me some trial and error before I found the watering devices that worked the best for my own needs, and it may take you some time, too. Finding the best water trough requires a balance of two things – the ability to provide fresh water and ease of use.
You may have something that you find to be the most convenient in terms of maintenance, but if your horse doesn’t like it, it is of no use. Likewise, your horse might enjoy drinking as he plays in his trough, but if you can’t stay on top of keeping it clean and fresh, it will not work. What works for one person may not work for another, so decide what it is that your horse, your schedule, and your property require, and go with the option that best fits those three factors.