Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Simple, Freeze-resistant Watering System for Multiple Species

      Winter seems to have finally taken hold and that poses some challenges for folks who raise animals as part of a whole and happy lifestyle. I can still vividly recall long ago winter mornings when I visited with my high school friend Pam. Pam had horses, which meant her life revolved around keeping them fed, watered and exercised. Every morning, before most folks had lifted an eyelid and rolled out of bed, Pam was outside breaking the ice that had inevitably formed over their water during the night. I wish I had known then, what I know now. It may have saved her a little work. It may be even more helpful to folks who raise a variety of animals.

      I initially wrote the following blog post when I volunteered for Rural Resources. Organizations like Rural Resources, small nonprofits that promote food security and sustainable agriculture, are great places to volunteer. Small nonprofits typically have more needs than they do staff and budget to cover them. Whatever your skills or interests are, they will likely have a way you can use them.

       In the meantime, take a minute to read about one man's innovative approach to the challenges of providing a freeze-resistant watering system for a variety of animals.

McElroy, a district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA in Greene County, Tenn., discusses an innovative, multi-species watering system he designed for Rural Resources, using recycled materials.

      Rural Resources’ Executive Director, Sally Causey, and Site Director Teddy Dabbs, asked Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist Mike McElroy to design a watering system that would accommodate a variety of species and work with Dabbs vision for a multi-paddock, multi-species, rotational grazing pasture.

      “We needed something to be relatively freeze-proof because we didn’t want to be breaking ice all the time,” said Causey. “But our problem was, we had all these really short animals, like goats and hogs, but we also had some of the taller variety, cattle. So we had to figure out a system where they could all drink from the same well.”

      McElroy accepted the challenge. He researched watering systems for each type of animal and used past experience to guide his design. The result is a remarkably simple, inexpensive, environmentally-friendly and low maintenance watering system using recycled materials.

      The system is built from a recycled industrial tire that McElroy obtained from Free Service Tire Company, Inc. in Kingsport, Tenn.

This multi-species watering system can be viewed at Rural Resources' Holley Creek Farm.

       “They’ll load them for you and they’re glad to give them away, because they have to pay to get rid of them and have them shipped to Texas and have them chipped up, or put in a land fill,” McElroy said, adding, “We like to use them to keep them out of the landfill.”

      Although using industrial tires is nothing new – McElroy estimates that at least 150 tires have been used on about 40 farms in Greene County, Tenn., over the last fifteen years – the concept of an integrated, multi-species watering system is.

      “This is the first time that this has ever been tried as far as I’m aware of,” McElroy, said. “There’s nothing you could actually purchase that would fit all of them very well.”

      The tire is trimmed with a reciprocating saw, laid on excavated ground, and surrounded by crusher run rock.

      The system was put to the test during last winter’s frigid temperatures, but Rural Resources’ staff said that there was very little freezing. The reason is a recycled 15 gallon plastic barrel McElroy placed in the bottom center of the tire, buried two feet in the ground and filled with water.

      “I put that barrel inside just to get some thermal energy from the ground,” he said. “Heat’s going to rise.”

      McElroy picks up the free barrels from dairy farms. They usually contained teet dip or antiseptic and are ready to use after a thorough cleaning.

To retain the thermal energy, McElroy put a layer of 3/4-inch Styrofoam brand insulation over the top of the tire and secured it with exterior plywood held by four bolts.

      Other features include a Gallagher float valve and an optional cement floor in the sidewall to make cleaning easier. Because of its construction, animals are unable to flip or move the waterer, and its construction limits contamination from animals getting into the water.

      The system is surrounded by a heavy-use area constructed of geotextile fabric and crusher run gravel to ensure low maintenance. McElroy said that, when using a 2- or 4-ball freeze-proof trough for cattle, a 16-foot by 16-foot concrete slab, surrounded by a 5-foot gravel transition area, is often used for the high-use area.

      Though it’s the first time it has been tried, both McElroy and the Rural Resources staff are pleased with the system’s low cost, high functionality and low maintenance.

      “It serves its purpose,” said McElroy. “Pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, horses, whatever, they all can have access to water.”

For more information about the watering system, contact Mike McElroy at or (423) 639-7397 Ext. 3.

To view the system or tour the Holley Creek Farm, contact Sally Causey at or (423) 636-8171. 

A Simple, Freeze-resistant Watering System for Multiple Species

      Winter seems to have finally taken hold and that poses some challenges for folks who raise animals as part of a whole and happy l...