Carrying heavy water buckets is probably one of the least pleasant aspects of daily barn life. Stall cleaning can be meditative, sweeping the aisle can be relaxing, but lifting buckets, dumping them, scrubbing them out, and carrying them, full of water and splashing on your legs, is never fun.
Thinking of dumping buckets and going with an automatic waterer in your horse’s stall or paddock? Let’s look at some pros and cons and decide if automatic waterers are right for you and your horses.
The first obvious pro is eliminating dragging around a hose or carrying back-breaking buckets back and forth as you clean the barn. Wrestling a dirty hose or dealing with a frozen hose is pretty low on most equestrians’ list of things they love about barn chores. There’s less water wasted, since you’re not dumping out gallons and gallons of water to clean buckets and troughs. They’re a time-saver, as well: how much time do you spend watering horses that could simply be reinvested into riding, training, or taking a lunch break for the first time in years?
Automatic waterers also come in insulated models which can provide a substantial energy savings (and safety advantage) over bucket heaters. Our favorite units are made by Nelson Manufacturing Company (www.nelsonmfg.com/horse-equipment/). In addition to waterers designed for sub-zero temperatures, some manufacturers also make waterers for hot, dry climates which reduce water wasted through evaporation.
Automatic waterers are wonderful when they function properly. Still, they require close observation. The system can fail: a clog might caused by hay or manure. They can freeze in winter weather, or malfunction and flood your horse’s stall. So while automatic waterers can save hard labor, if your horses are left alone the majority of the time, one malfunction could leave them without water (or knee-deep in it) until you return to the barn. In addition, if you have a sick horse, an automatic waterer won’t allow you to monitor drinking patterns; you’ll need to go back to bucket duty in these cases.
Automatic waterers require daily attention to make sure they’re working properly, and that attention extends to checking the horse’s water needs are being met throughout the day. They don’t solve every problem, and might cause a few new ones. If you have a horse who likes to manure in his bucket, that likely won’t change with an automatic waterer, and it might be harder for you to clean than a regular bucket.
If automatic waterers are the right choice for your barn, you’ll find there’s a huge variety of options on the market, including electric-free models. Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll want to choose installation sites carefully: these are permanent parts of your farm! Automatic waterers are meant to save you time, and money, for years to come.