closeup of concrete trough with clean water

As part of keeping our stock healthy, access to clean water is as crucial as feed. Stock can pick up disease from contaminated water so good trough hygiene is an essential part of the stock management plan.

Troughs come in all shapes and sizes,some are plastic, some concrete and occasionally people have metal troughs. Probably the biggest bane for stock water is the growth of algae. This can build up very quickly when temperatures warm up and stock will drink less as the water becomes less palatable with the slime build up. Green algae can turn into a thick hair-like growth when conditions are right, whereas brown algae can plaster the sides of the trough with a thick bubble-like mat. Add to that bacteria from bird droppings and other bugs and you can have a soup of pathogens ready to be ingested by your stock.

How and what to clean with.

Elbow grease is the non-chemical way to clean your trough. The trough can be scrubbed while water is still in it and then emptied out, or emptied out and then scrubbed. It's amazing what will end up in the bottom of a trough - worms, vegetation, small stones, grains dropped by birds and calcium deposits if the water comes from a limey source. Dead worms and vegetation can add to the problem of contaminated water as they rot and produce bacteria.

Once the trough is clean it can be refilled. If stock are drinking from it consistently, it should stay clean for a while, but if the paddock is being rested, it will soon need cleaning again.

Chemical cleaners

There are tablets available that can be put into troughs to inhibit algal growth and kill pathogens. These can come in the form of a combined zinc sulphate and copper sulphate tablet, or a chlorine based one. For example FIL - fil.co.nz make trough tablets that treat up to 1,000 litres at a time and need replenishing every six weeks. The combination of zinc and copper keeps the water clean, but they can’t be used in areas where stock are prone to zinc or copper toxicity. The trough still needs to be cleaned before the tablet is dispensed. They also make a chlorine based tablet for troughs.

Good old bleach

We use bleach to disinfect our houses and it also works well to clean troughs with. A 10 % solution - one part bleach to nine parts water can be used or a rate of one cup of bleach to 4.5 litres of water. Once the trough is empty and cleaned, use the solution to rinse the trough twice. This should keep the trough clean for several weeks.

Summer is usually the worst time for water quality in troughs to deteriorate, so keeping a close eye on the stock drinking water during the warm months will mean that cleaning out the trough can take place before the water gets too grotty. If tablets are being used, these can work for about six weeks.

Note, it is important not to use commercial tablets or bleach in fish ponds - keep their water clean with either a product specifically designed for fish ponds or regular cleaning!

Keeping troughs clean at regular intervals will just become part of the overall farm routine and will keep stock healthy and happy.