PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
June 2, 2016

Water is an essential part of your livestock’s diet. It doesn’t often get thought of or labeled as a nutrient, but it most certainly is. Water can play a role in your animals micronutrient intake if it has a high mineral content, but as necessary as it is, it can cause problems if not clean. Most common issues with water stem from poor management, so you need to incorporate a trough-cleaning strategy into your regular chore routine.

Why You Need To Clean Your Troughs

Water cleanliness rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t drink from it, your animals probably shouldn’t either.

Now, take that with a grain of salt. Of course, I don’t mean that your animals shouldn’t drink secondary water sources or from streams. Obviously, they can do a lot of things we can’t when it comes to eating and drinking. I’m talking about visual cleanliness—if the trough looks gross and you wouldn’t be tempted to drink out of it on a hot day, it is way past time to clean it.

The most common cleanliness issue with water troughs is algae, and some of it can even be dangerous for your animals. Generally, red or brown algae is OK, but blue or green algae releases toxins into the water. To be safe, just clean it all up.

water trough
iStock/Thinkstock

The No-Nonsense Approach To Cleaning

Cleaning water troughs and buckets doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve found the easiest and most effective way is with a hard-bristled brush, some dish soap and a hose.

First, dump out the water and use a high-pressure sprayer nozzle for your hose to knock off the surface debris. While this may get most of the dirt and algae off, you’ll still want to scrub it. Often, contaminants can’t simply be removed by rinsing. They may appear to go away but you’ll still feel a slight film when the bucket is touched.

After the trough is sprayed down, pour in a small amount of dish soap. Use the hard-bristled brush to scrub the whole bucket or trough inside and out. If your trough or buckets are really dirty, you may need to scrape some of the gunk off with a putty knife. I use that and a toothbrush for any small areas my larger brush can’t reach, like under heating elements.

Be sure to remove all of the dirt and algae—any that is left will just continue to grow and spread once you fill up the bucket or trough with water again.

Trough Management Basics

Of course, the easiest way to keep your animals water clean is through prevention.

Buy New Troughs

I love buying farm equipment used, but water buckets and troughs are something I always buy new. If the trough starts out clean and you keep it that way, it’s much less prone to growing algae.

Use Water Troughs For Water Only

Don’t use water buckets or troughs for anything other than water. Not only can dual usage contribute to dirty water, but scratching the surface of the trough or bucket will give the algae and other contaminants a place to live and grow.

Keep Water Away From Feeders

Sloppy animals getting feed in the water just creates more work for you. I also try to keep my troughs away from any trees that may be dropping debris and out of direct sunlight. Obviously these situations aren’t always possible, but if you can implement at least a few of them you’ll save some time having to scrub buckets out.

Add Fish

Some people keep fish in their water buckets and troughs. The fish eat the algae and keep the trough clean, saving you time and labor. As an added bonus, the fish won’t need to be fed. I haven’t tried this myself but have heard it works very well when managed correctly. You’ll only want to try this in very large troughs that won’t get knocked over, aren’t in direct sunlight and are deep enough for the fish to have somewhere to go when an animal is drinking. Using fish doesn’t give you a free pass from scrubbing your buckets and troughs, though—it just means you can do it less often. Slimy film can still build up in the trough even if there is no visible algae.

Overall, keeping your water troughs clean is simple and easy, but you have to stay on top of it and clean them regularly. Water is one of the most important things your animals consume, so make sure you’re managing it correctly!


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