Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hot soup for horses: Costs and benefits of warm water

There is much to like about the barn where I board, and one thing that I LOVE is that in the winter they regularly provide warm water. It's a hassle, and I appreciate that they do it. Horses suck down that warm water as fast as you can fill their buckets (which is good), but in effect you have to fill their buckets twice each time you water. As a barn worker I know, it's annoying in that labor-of-love sort of way.

As an owner I love that my boys get the horsie equivalent of "hot soup" in this wretched winter weather. There are health benefits as well:
  • They'll drink lots more warm water than cold. 
  • The extra water will offset the lack of moist grass; dry winter forage will be digested better.
  • They'll be less prone to colic.  
The water doesn't really have to be that warm, either. My vet told me 60 degree water is adequate. 

So what does it cost to offer warm water? Say you have a barn of twenty horses who each drink six gallons of water a day -- a  total of 120 gallons/day. Let's tweak this water consumption calculator a little to calculate the cost of heating 120 gallons water from 35 degrees to 90 degrees, using natural gas, in PA, for the going rate heating costs. My math skills are not stellar, but according to the calculator...

The cost for giving twenty horses warm water  is $1.53/day, $45.73/month, or  $182.92 from November-February. If your horses drink eight gallons of water a day, the cost is more like $60/month.

That doesn't look so bad, does it? But it you think hot/warm water is expensive, try colic surgery.

She said smugly.


  1. We have the luxury of heated water buckets this winter, and though the water isn't that warm, at least it isn't frozen. It is wonderful to not have to break the ice!

  2. Wish we had this, and three meals a day, and free-choice hay...where is that perfect world when you need it?

  3. I have a heater in the water tub outside and, if I need them, heated buckets for the stalls. I have also been giving my Boys hot, wet feeds at late feeding.

    Sorry, Val. My Boys get three meals a day and plenty of hay at each feeding. It's one of the benefits of having them stabled in my back yard. If my older boy needs to pick up more weight, I may add a feeding for him...we'll see. He's getting hot, wet feed at each meal right now.

  4. May I just say that I love this topic, and this post (if I do say so myself)? Val, I totally get that this is an ideal world scenario, and my boarding facility is not perfect (none are). But nothing satisfies me more than seeing my boys take a long, deep drink on the cold nights we're having. I think it actually lowers my blood pressure :-)

  5. Stacey: I know what you mean.
    Jean: Someday!

    For now, my horse does get wet feed/beet pulp, thankfully drinks well, and has a coat like a polar bear. Oh, how I wish he was in my backyard, though!

  6. Hmmm, learned something! I have never thought of giving 'warm' water.
    I did invest in heated buckets and a heater for a tank - since I have to dip from the tank to fill the buckets in the stall. One of my guys - given the choice between the heated bucket and very cold water in an unheated one, will always drink the warmer water. My other guy only drinks his heated water as a last resort. I guess they are no different that we are. I abhor ice in my drinks. My hubby can't stand a drink that isn't ice cold!

  7. I take warm water out to mine too. :) And I have a water heater so their water isn't frozen. Thanks for the link to the water calculator. That's interesting.

  8. Our well water is about 67 degrees so I can easily keep the buckets in the stalls "warm" - and my crew get warm wet meals 2-3x/day. But oddly, I notice that they often seem to enjoy drinking the colder water in the big troughs!

    When we have super cold weather I top off all the outdoor troughs as they don't freeze as quickly that way, and remove all the ice every morning - but often enough they have already gone out, broken the ice themselves, and had a drink. (when their buckets were perfectly clear)

  9. Do you remember earning lesson time by getting water to all the horses when their buckets were frozen that one winter? We worked darned hard!

    Warm water sounds smart -- we might top up Oscar's bucket with something warmer when we're back out on the weekend.

  10. My boys get two buckets of hot water,one is in a insulated holder(best investment ever!),and will stay warm most of the night. The plus side,they drink both buckets too! So I dont have to worry! :-)

  11. Stacey - its not that simple - it actually costs a lot more....

    Unless you have an "on demand" water heater (which is typically found only in new houses, or as a energy efficiency "retrofit") you have to pay to keep the water hot all day long, whether you use it or not -

    And unless your barn is insulated, and your hot water tank insulated, depending on weather, you're burning a lot of gas to keep that tank full and hot for instant availability.

    Oh, and add in that most people don't normally put the most energy efficient appliances in their BARN, you're probably dealing with a pretty inefficient water heater.

    If you really want me to, I can do this calc for you - I'm a chemical engineer which a specialty in the power industry (which means I know how to burn fuel, boil water and make steam and electricity).

    So yes, it would APPEAR that your number is really quite low, and it likely is cheaper than a daily starbucks run per owner - but I would suspect your number is actually double what you show in reality.

    Suzi, your friendly neighborhood enginerd.

  12. If you really want warm water for your horse(s) and your barn doesn't provide it, you can always do it yourself. My barn has running water but no heated water. I bought a $30 electric water heater that I plug in and submerse in a large bucket of water. By the time I've cleaned the stall and brushed my horse, the water is nice and warm and there's enough for one warm 5 gallon bucket in my horse's stall and a nice soupy warm mash that I make out of her grain and alfalfa cubes. I always provide one warm bucket and one cold bucket for her. If she's over-blanketed at all, she'll drink more cold water.

    I rough board so I have to be at the barn every evening regardless, but this is a quick and easy way to spoil her and make sure she's drinking plenty of water. I dealt with an impaction colic in the spring that thankfully I caught early and didn't require surgery, but after that scare I am a nut about water consumption. It's against the law in my town to have an electric heater left unattended in a barn so she can't have a heated bucket.

    Every morning the bucket of warmed water is almost gone, while her bucket of cold water is mostly full, unless as I said the blanket she's wearing was a bit too heavy for the overnight temps.

    Keep in mind that the average horse needs to drink 7 gallons of water at a minimum just to process hay and grain intake.

  13. Hi Scarlett, Notice that the "green calculator" that I used adjusts for 59% (in)efficiency of natural gas. So I think the inefficiency you mention (which also applies to homes from what you say) is accounted for...


  14. I have a 16 gallon heated water tub in the barn for my horse and donkey; and lucky me, they live in my backyard so to speak! In the morning when I look out my kitchen window they are usually there and will call out as if to say, "Good morning, now come out and feed us!"

    They do drink a lot of water and that's good! I also have a heated water bucket for my outside dog....having a warm drink in cold weather is good! To pay more for electric to heat their water, not a problem, for them to have a warm drink, priceless!! :-)
    good post!

  15. We have the heaters in the troughs and heated buckets also. After the initial investment to purchase these items you don't have any additional labor. I have had a horse get colic surgery and would do most anything I can to avoid that ever happening again!

  16. Actually, I have heard 42 degrees is the best temp to keep your water so that horses will drink enough in the winter. Too cold or warm, and they don't want to drink it. I have always used tank warmers that kept the water temp between 40-45 degrees, but a new one I bought didn't turn off when it should, and the water was like soup. None of the horses would drink it! I took it out and put the old one back in and they were fine.

    I also make they a hot soupy dinner when it is really cold, usually with some of Smart Pak's peppermint mash in there. I figure it's like a bowl of oatmeal on a cold morning.

    Anyone else have horses who think the tank warmer will shock them, and constantly pull it out? I will find the tank iced over and the warmer out in the pasture at lease once a week.

  17. I've been hauling buckets of hot water out to my boys for the last week since it's been in the 20's every night, which is UNHEARD of for where I live. Yes, it's a pain, and yes, I have a tank heater and heated buckets on (back)order, but... they are drinking lots and that's what counts! As for cost, it's really not an issue - anything's cheaper than colic!

  18. Shadow Rider: Yes, I've had a horse that wouldn't drink out of a water trough with an immersion heater because he was being shocked by it. Everyone else's horses were drinking and the boarders thought I was crazy when I told them I saw my horse back away from the trough. I went and got him several buckets of water and he drank 5 gallons straight, stopping only to switch buckets.

    Knowing that something had to be wrong with the situation, I went in search of more information. What I found is that the problem arises from "leakage current" which is current that doesn't flow from the electrical device to ground through the ground connection, like it should. Sometimes the grounding isn't good enough, or current leaks out through old, damaged or insufficient wire insulation. The horse, lips/nose touching water and metal shoes on moist ground, becomes the route for the excess current to go to ground. Even a very small leak can cause a shock when the horse touches the water surface, and some horses are more sensitive to the shocks than others. Talk about negative reinforcement--not good when you're trying to encourage your horse to drink more, not less!

    Leakage current is a big deal in the medical equipment industry too. Less than 10 milliamps of leakage current from an improperly insulated or grounded piece of equipment, can cause arrhythmia and possibly kill a person, so hospital equipment is regularly checked for maximum leakage current levels and certified on a regular basis.

    Leakage current shocks from water troughs are a known cause for low milk production in dairy cows. and great care needs to be taken to make sure the troughs have proper earth grounding.

    Some ways to avoid the problem in the horse barn: don't use heated water troughs or buckets. If you must use heated troughs, make sure that the cords are insulated properly and the insulation is intact--this requires more than a cursory inspection because holes and cracks can be very small. Don't run your water trough heater with an extension cord(s)--increasing the length of an electrical cord decreases its efficiency, and undersized extension cords (too small of a wire gauge for the electrical load) can be very dangerous (overheated wire = barn fire). Insulated buckets for inside the barn are expensive, but worth every penny if you don't have access to warm water and don't want to deal with frozen buckets several times a day on the coldest days of winter.

    Think Spring everyone!

  19. Because I'm a stickler for psychological principles -- the trough situation is not an instance of negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement occurs when a behavior is reinforced by *removal* of a stimulus. It's different from punishment.

  20. Ah, mea culpa! It is a punishment, isn't it? I guess, as a chemist, I've spent more time being a lab rat rather than studying them ;-)

  21. Kudos, Stacey. Negative = minus. Another person, besides myself, who likes that kind of consistency in terminology. ;)


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