December of 2010, the year after we arrived in middle Tennessee, was the coldest in recorded history since the early 1940s. We had just limped through eight days of below freezing temperatures. It got so low the first night that the pond totally froze. I kept trying to break up the ice along the edges so the horses could get to water (the remnants seen on the gravel in the photo below) but it soon reached the point where it was re-freezing befre I could get back into the house. So finally – remembering well Mariah’s fall l through the ice the winter before – I closed off the entire pasture and started filling water tubs down at the barn.
But I also remembered the freeze-proof faucet at the barn freezing our first year here, and me hauling jugs of water from the house several times a day, and the gator breaking down so the jugs had to be hauled by hand, and the enormous electric bills caused by the resistance-heating coil in the tub water heater, not to mention how difficult it was to set it all up in such a way that Mouse could neither eat it it or destroy it :). All of that got the ol’ brain working. There must be a way to keep the pond both available and safe.
What if I put the tub heater in the pond? Nah, it surely couldn’t warm such a large volume of water.
Then I remembered something someone told me in a comment on the blog. They use a submersible pump in their water tubs and it keeps the tubs from freezing. Moving water is much harder to freeze. And the pump uses much less electricity than a tub heater. Hmmm. I wondered if a pump would work in the pond. Especially if I put it very near the edge of the pond where the horses drink. By this time anything was worth a try. It wasn’t even officially winter yet and already we were setting cold temperature records. It could be a long winter.
So off to Lowes I went and came home with a $70 submersible pond pump. The kind you might use to make or drive a fountain or a waterfall. I placed it on a concrete block about five feet from the edge of the pond with the output pointing straight up, covered the power cord with rocks (the ground was already too frozen to dig a trench), ran an extension cord down from the house… and voila, the photo you see below.
But would the horses drink? Would the fountain effect scare them? Especially Noelle, the mustang. And Mariah, who had icy memories from the previous year. I decided to leave the pasture closed for the night and see how the little pump fared. It was predicted to drop into the teens. The next morning there was still a beautiful pool in the pond so I opened all the pasture gates during the morning feed. Shortly thereafter I snapped the photo below.
Cash was drinking away. Pocket and Skeeter were not far behind him. No one seemed very worried about the bubbling fountain. Pocket studied it but not for long. The ice on the gravel and the bubbling water did bother Mariah and she turned away several times before finally drinking. Then came the snow.
The next four or five days never got above the mid twenties. The drinking “pool” got smaller but never froze away. I did break up the ice around edge a few times but it was always thin enough for the weight of a horse to easily break it. One night the temperature dropped to 9 degrees. The next morning I was out of bed the minute it was light to check the pond. This first photo (at the top) was snapped from the upstairs bedroom window.
There was a 12″ frozen “shelf ” at the pond’s edge but Cash (who doesn’t like to get his feet wet) would rather reach across than step on the ice. When big ol’ Skeeter came down he just stomped on the shelf and it crumbled. After feeding, I broke up all the ice along the edge of the pond.
Conclusions: The winter of 2010 continued to set record temperatures and snow accumulations but that great little pump persisted and never once did the horses not have their little pool to drink from. Had it gotten cold enough long enough to cause serious edge freezing I would have moved the pump closer to the shoreline but the need never arose. I also planned to dig the bottom deeper along the shoreline because one of the reasons it was freezing is that it’s only inches deep right at the edge so the water movement has less effect. But again that need never arose. If worse had come to worse I might’ve even acquired a second pump. This seems to be a solution that will work for anyone, at least anyone in the mid-latitudes of the U.S. In either a pond or tub. I have no idea what would happen waaay up at the top of the country, or in Canada, Extremely cold temperatures for very long times might overpower the movement of the water. If anyone up there tries it I’d love to hear about the results.
Suffice to say the pump is back in the pond and ready for whatever the winter of 2012-13 might bring. One additional piece of advice: don’t leave that little devil in the pond if you turn it off in the Spring. I did that last year. I had to virtually take it apart to get it clean and operating again in the fall. Things do grow during the Spring and Summer in Tennessee :)