The Farmers’ Almanac is predicting “the winter of the great divide” for the 2020-21 season – cold and snowy in the north with drought in the west. Time will tell if this prediction will hold true but one prediction that will be 100% accurate is that cold winter weather can make even the simplest chore much more difficult. A simple winterization routine for your water supply can help eliminate any icy, frozen surprises.

Water is the Most Important Nutrient We Provide Dairy Cattle

“Even a small limitation in water intake will decrease dry matter intake by one to two pounds daily, which could limit peak milk production by two to five pounds,” said Paul Kononoff, dairy extension specialist for University of Nebraska Extension. “Lactating dairy cows require four and a half to five pounds of water per pound of milk produced. This equates to roughly one-half gallon of water for every pound of milk secreted. As an example, a cow producing 100 pounds of milk daily could consume as much as 50 gallons of water.”

It is crucial that dairy cattle always have access to fresh, clean water. According to J.W. Schroeder, an extension dairy specialist for North Dakota State University Extension, dairy cows prefer to drink water with moderate temperatures of 63 F to 82 F rather than ice cold water. Water consumption is generally associated with feeding or milking. Cows may consume 30 to 50 percent of their daily water intake within one hour after milking.

Dairy producers have utilized many water system designs over the decades, but quality automatic watering system tanks have consistently been proven over the years to be cost effective and boost production for your cows.

“If given a choice of water sources cattle do prefer to drink from a tank instead of streams or ponds,” said Ted Wiseman, extension educator for Ohio State University Extension Beef Team. “In a few studies, cattle were given access to both with no restriction to stream or pond access. In both studies cattle preferred to drink from tanks 75 to 90 percent of the time.”


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Prepare for Winter Before the Bitter Cold Sets In

Whether you have tanks that water a small herd or a large dairy operation, there are some simple maintenance tasks you need to perform to keep your waterers operating at peak performance.

Step One: Clean Valve Chamber and Drinking Areas – Remove covers and use a brush or sponge to remove any debris that may have collected in trough areas and valve chambers. Pay special attention to the area where the immersion heater is housed. Deposits can build up on the heater if it is continuously stored in the waterer.

Step Two: Check All Water Seals – Quality automatic waterers, like those manufactured by Ritchie Industries, Inc., can utilize water seals using tracks intended to hold water or vegetable oil during cold weather which will freeze or seal the covers down onto the unit during the winter. If the tracks are full of debris or other materials, they won’t seal properly, and cold air may leak in and freeze your valve system.

Step Three: Inspect the All-Weather Sealant – Check the all-weather sealant around the base of the unit and the concrete pad to ensure no gaps have formed that would allow air to penetrate the underside of the unit.  Replace if needed. Before winter, make sure to inspect inside the unit to make sure no critters have taken up residence or caused damage.

Step Four: Install & Inspect Optional Heating Units – Inspect all units for any damage. Plug in and turn on breaker to the immersion heater and/or heat cable after it is installed and under water. Chill the water with ice to activate the built-in thermostat. The heater should be warm to the touch within 15 seconds if it is working properly.  

Units that have built in thermostatically controlled heaters can be tested by simply turning power on to the unit and filling the drinking areas with ice to activate the thermostats. If the ice melts away, your unit is operating properly. 

Step Five: Troubleshoot Heating Elements & Avoid Stray Voltage – If your immersion heater is not becoming noticeably warm to the touch or if there is damage to the cord/wires, a new heater will be needed.

If the ice you poured in the thermostatically controlled drinking area of your unit does not melt away there are two main causes. If the ice melts on just one side of the unit, the heater of the opposite side may be malfunctioning, and needs replaced. If none of the ice melts, then your thermostat may need to be replaced or power to the unit is faulty. If you suspect an electrical issue, consult with an electrician. 

Self-regulating cable heaters are low wattage and do not feel noticeably warm to the touch. You may need to test this with a voltage meter or ask assistance from an electrician. If this element goes out during the winter, you will notice that the drinking areas are free of ice, but you are not getting water from the valve.

Easy Water Solutions for Every Dairy Producer This Winter

With a little maintenance and a solid winterization plan, you can keep the fresh water flowing this winter and keep your dairy cattle healthy and productive. If you haven’t already invested in a quality waterer, there are many excellent options in the marketplace. Consistently the best-selling automatic cattle waterers are made by Ritchie Industries, Inc., the Iowa company that invented automatic waterers in 1921. 

“There’s nothing worse than breaking ice or doing maintenance on a waterer when it is freezing outside,” said Robert Amundson,  President and CEO at Ritchie Industries, Inc. “We offer a full line of durable, quality founts that meet Grade A dairy recommendations Our waterers are cost effective, innovative and backed by the best warranty in the business. It is our mission at Ritchie to provide fresh water for life.”

For more information on Ritchie waterers, visit