Gerald and Pat Vandervalk of Clareshom, Alberta, Canada, solved the challenges of winter water for their cattle by utilizing numerous springs on their ranch.

The water systems Gerald created work well in several kinds of situations, and he now makes and sells his innovative water troughs, made from big tires.

“We are fortunate on our ranch because we have so many springs,” he says. “We don’t have to pump any water.”

Springs run all the time, and water from a spring is about 45 to 55 degrees year round and doesn’t freeze as quickly as water in a river or stream.

“Sometimes if it’s a slower spring, with not much volume and flow you might have to partially cover the trough or use a smaller trough so there’s not as much surface area to freeze,” he says. “We use different size tires for the troughs and tires are indestructible.”

If it’s a slow flow and a small trough he puts a 90-degree angle in the pipe where the water comes in, which shoots the water across the surface. This creates more movement where the water is coming in and running across the surface and it never freezes in that location. This allows the cows to always have access to an area of open water and no ice, where they can drink. The ideal situation, however is a good, fast-flowing spring.

To make the troughs, he uses concrete for the bottom.

“We use black poly pipe and pull it up through the bottom of the trough,” Vandervalk says. “Most of these troughs are designed for springs, so I usually have three pipes coming through — the intake and two overflows. The reason for the two overflow pipes is that sometimes (if you are fortunate to have a lot of water in your spring) it takes two overflows to handle the excess water, so the trough won’t overflow, especially if water is coming in with a bit of pressure (such as gravity flow). Another reason for the second pipe is that sometimes a person decides later to take the overflow water from that trough and pipe it on down the hill and across the fence to another pasture. It’s pretty hard to put another hole in the concrete bottom so we just put in two overflow pipes to begin with, in case they want to use some of that water for another trough, down in the next field,” he says.

Some ranchers use Vandervalk’s troughs with a solar watering system.

“To keep from overflowing the trough they need to cut the intake pipe off a bit, so it is low enough that a float can be put on it,” he says. “When pumping water, you’d want a float,” he says.

A unique way of preventing ice buildup is a method Vandervalk has seen done by one of his neighbors.

“When we cut the top out of the tire, we cut all around the outside, but he cuts about 6 or more slots in the top part of the side walls, big enough for a cow’s head, and then has a tube (like an inner tube from a tractor tire) at each hole, and the tube goes down into the trough, into the water,” he says. “This makes for less surface area on top of the trough, and where the cow sticks her nose down through that circle where she drinks from, the tube goes down a ways into the water.”

Thus the cattle are always pulling warmer water off the bottom of the trough.

“The tube is big enough that there is plenty of room for the cow’s head and nose and it drops about a foot down into the water,” he says. “My neighbor’s troughs have a float, since the water is coming in with pressure.”

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email

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