Heated Water Buckets

Another New Cause for Concern?

Rebecca Martin brought this to my attention in a recent email:

“I’m having a bit of a tussle with the place I board my horse. They want to use heated buckets and I do not. I don’t want my horse in a death trap that I could have prevented. I have a heated water tub outside that holds 70 gallons. I’d rather do this, however, this is hooked to the barn as well.
“Any suggestions how to handle this? My horse is usually in at night and I, of course, want him to have enough water. When I had him at my house I only had the heated tub outside. I gave him water at night in his stall and he did what he could before it froze, but I felt that was a lot safer. He drinks so much, too, I am concerned he is going to drain it while no one is home.”

My reply:

“I don’t have any first-hand experience with heated water buckets, but one fact is important regarding all electric appliances: they must be properly installed and if they are corded, as opposed to hard-wired, the cords should be heavily insulated and placed in such a way that the horses cannot get to them. And, as with box fans, if you are the only one without a heated water bucket and everyone else has one, and just one is improperly installed or wired, or the cord gets chomped on by the stall occupant or some uninvited wildlife, and that broken cord shorts out, sending sparks onto hay. . .you get my drift, I’m sure.
“I’m going to look for information on heated water buckets and I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, take a look at how the heated water buckets are installed and take some reference photos if you have questions about what you’re seeing. I’ve sent an email requesting information to Dave Yates, an experienced plumber and the owner of F.W. Behler Co., in York Pennsylvania.
“My concern is not so much about the bucket, but more about the electic cord used for heating. It appears, from the ads I’ve checked, that each bucket has its own cord. That means that if the buckets are used in a series of stalls, the cords will have to be plugged into an outlet at each stall. That seems like quite an electrical demand. In any event, we’ll all learn about this.”

Sure enough, Rebecca’s reply, sent a few chills up and down my spine:

“I do appreciate this very much. My horse means so much to me. I don’t want to just go with the flow, if you know what I mean. There is only one other horse on the premises, but we have to use an extension cord along the top of the wall of the stall and down the corner. I believe it gets stapled to the corner so he can’t chew, but will have to figure this out a bit more.”

Dave replied quickly:

Wow! The return from Google is nothing short of amazing. A number of them [heated water buckets] look fairly safe without any in-depth investigation. However, read the fine print I found below:

“Shuts off if water level drops below 5 ½”. Cage prevents heating element from
coming into contact with plastic bucket. 1000 watts. 120 volts. Not to be left unattended.”

“Not to be left unattended” kind of says it all from my perspective. In reality, that mantra will be followed to the letter just a few times before folks wander off to a warm tack room and/or forget the thing entirely! A watt = 3.414 BTUs and it takes 1 BTU to raise 1 pound of water 1 degree F. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. At 1,000 watts, that’s 3,414 BTUs, which seems like overkill for anything less than 5 gallons.
OHM’s law (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/Bill_Bowden/ohmslaw.htm) indicates we’d have an 8.34 amp-draw. Most 115 v circuits are rated at 15 amps and the rule of thumb is that we should not draw a load of more than 80% of the circuit’s breaker-rating, which would be 12 amps. Plug in more than one 1,000-watt heater on a single 15 amp circuit and you’ve got an overload condition that should, but might not, trip the breaker – aka – a potential fire hazard.
Extension cords are likely to be utilized too. Frayed, cracked and ones missing the grounding prong are common conditions to avoid for safety and, as you’d expect, anytime you have water that can be easily spilled next to an extension cord, you have the potential for shock-hazards.
How big of a deal is this issue? What’s the rule of thumb for hydration with horses in stalls in terms of gallons per night, day, or by the hour? Seems like an interesting quandry!

Rebecca’s concern about how much water her horse actually needed brought quick action by Dave as he contacted knowledgeable family members about the “quandry:” He asked them, “How often and how much hydration do horses need in stalls? Anyone have a gallons per day/night/hour figure?”

The responses were quick and very helpful:

First, from Cousin Wendy: It depends on a lot of factors—size of horse, whether the feed is very dry or not, weather conditions, etc. . . We use a regular, ranch-store version copper heating element heater with a 3-prong grounded plug mounted in the bottom of a 100 gallon stock tank in the summer. Our two donkeys and one horse drink about 20 gallons worth a day.

And from a second member who is a veterinarian: Part of the issue with horses and water is not just getting them to drink enough water overnight in the winter to survive, but keeping them hydrated enough to prevent impaction colic (when the colon fills up with dry hay and feedstuffs and gives them an almighty bellyache) in the winter. Invariably when the weather turned bitter in the winter in Michigan, I would be called out on emergency colics one after another. Many of these horses had access to unfrozen water but it was so cold that they stopped drinking well. I do think offering warm water during the winter, at least for horses in work, is important in preventing illness. . . Strenuous exercise can also cause rapid and large water loss, even in winter, and these losses must be recovered by drinking. Many mares are bred to give birth in January and February, and lactating mares can more than double water requirements.

So it seems that my initial concern about electricity and heated water buckets does have merit. Also read Dave’s informative article posted on the Contributors Page, “Yates on Heating.” I’d like to hear from those of you who have used heated water buckets, or if you have devised other methods for keeping water buckets warm enough so water in them doesn’t freeze too fast.