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How to Build an Automatic Livestock Waterer

| Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic or metal container

  • 3- to 6-foot hose

  • Float device

Nothing is more important to the diet of livestock than an abundant supply of water. According to Greg Lardy, beef cattle specialist, and Charles Stoltenow, extension veterinarian at North Dakota State University, “Water makes up over 98 percent of all molecules in the body and is necessary for regulation of body temperature, growth, reproduction, lactation, digestion, lubrication of joints, eyesight, and as a cleansing agent.” To provide water to livestock in pens, corrals, and pastures without a pond, ranchers have employed many inexpensive, yet highly effective methods. Each is designed to furnish water without the need to manually refill water containers.

A Sturdy Container

Place a sturdy container near a water supply to begin the assembly. The number of animals you are watering will determine the size of the container. A single horse can use a 12-qt. bucket, while a dozen or more cattle will require a trough containing many gallons of water. The container can be metal or plastic, but it must be sturdy to withstand the bumping and shoving among large farm animals. Some dairy cattle can drink up to 24 gallons a day. So an appropriate container for the herd size and breed of livestock is very important.

Attach one end of a garden hose to the water supply. Attach the other end to the float. The hose should be short – only a few feet long -- to make the necessary attachment. Generally, all hoses should be placed in an area that would block livestock from being able to walk on it or interfere with the flow of water. Placing the container against a fence or wall and allowing animals to approach from three sides is an ideal arrangement to protect the hose and flow.

Shop your local feed or garden supply store for a selection of proven automatic float devises to turn a hose "on" when water is needed. Basic floats are priced at about $15 to $20. Complete watering units can cost as much as $800. But a simple float in a sturdy container is all that is needed. You could even use a toilet tank float from a plumbing store. The concept is the same, although the outdoor unit will be complete with a hose receptacle and attaching hardware built into the unit.

Attach the float to the side of the container. Turn on the water supply and adjust the float to shut off the supply of water when it reaches the appropriate height in the container. Test several times to assure it is operating properly.


  • There is no need to spend a fortune to accomplish your needs. A recycled mineral tub can be used as your container.

    In severe climates where temperatures remain below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours at a time, having a heated unit will help assure the flow and availability of water.


  • No matter what materials you choose, check the units daily to assure they have not malfunctioned. Water is too important to the health of your animals.