How to Keep a Water Trough Clean for Livestock

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Two goats in an empty trough.

How to keep your animal’s water trough clean with no chemicals. This easy to setup trough for our goats stays crystal clear!

When we first brought our goats home, I used small buckets for them that I filled every day. The previous owners of our house had left a water trough though and I was interested in using it as an alternative to daily bucket feeding. My main concern was cleanliness. I didn’t want to need to empty it daily, worry about mosquitoes breeding in it, or problems with our goats’ health.

Many people swore by keeping a few goldfish in their water tanks to keep the algae and mosquito larvae down. I decided to get a bit more fancy than that- I knew from having our pond at the last house that fish produce waste so clear water isn’t necessarily a good indication of the cleanliness of the water.

I knew that having a good ecosystem is the best way to keep a fish tank or pond clean so I decided to apply the same concept to the water trough.

This is a LARGE trough… here’s a picture with my Nigerian Dwarf goats beside it for comparison (ps. here’s a tutorial on a rolling hay feeder for the goats!).

I believe this is somewhere between 100-150 gallons. You can check out stock tanks on Amazon. Make sure it has a drain.

Did you know I have a store with all sorts of fun digital products? Here’s a few you might be interested in, or keep scrolling for the tutorial!

Fish

We have a local fish store that I ADORE called Lilypons in Frederick. I took the kids there to pick up three fish. You DO NOT want koi. You want a type of gold fish that will stay on the smaller side. You also do not want too many fish.

Like having an aquarium indoors or filling a pond with fish, the water trough will not stay in balance with too many fish for the size of the trough. I should have done better math to figure out how many fish to add, but three seems to be working fine for our large trough.

Do NOT place fish in a small bucket or small trough. They need to be able to hide and the water can’t get too hot/cold/freeze. This trough is deep enough that the bottom shouldn’t freeze during the winter.

Our fish are a bit photo shy, but my toddler is watching one of the orange goldfish (we have one albino) here.

Filtration

I didn’t want to invest in an expensive filter and I didn’t think it would be necessary. Nature provides natural filtration when the ecosystem is in balance. With enough of the correct pond plants, it made sense that the water would be filtered naturally. Here’s a list of pond plants that can provide filtration when there’s enough of them for the size of your trough.

Initially I added water lettuce, but it didn’t survive (my fault, I kept it in a bucket for a while before setting up the trough properly). I decided to replace it with duck weed because that was what I originally meant to buy… but forgot the name of when I was at the store. Whoops.

Duck weed can help the water quality, but can also function as food for livestock. It’s fast growing. The fish can eat it. Overall there are a lot of benefits to duck weed. I love the idea of growing food for the ducks to eat.

I ordered 500 Lemna Minor duck weed plants on Amazon in hopes they would work well. My main issue was that they were tiny and when I let the water over flow, I lost the duck weed pretty quickly.

Next season, I’ll add water lettuce or water hyacinth on the side opposite the animals because they’re simply easier to keep inside the trough.

As an added item for filtration, it is smart to add some of these barley straw bales as well.

Water Movement

The main priority to avoid mosquito larvae is to make sure there is a lot of movement in the water. They prefer to lay their eggs in still water. I opted for a cheap solar pump that would circulate the water during the day.

Because the goats chewed the wire, I ended up moving the trough so half of it was outside of their fencing. This allowed me to place the solar pump on the outside of the goat pen. My husband fixed the wires for me.

The pump circulates the water all day, although it’s off at night. It produces a nice pond gurgle all day. When it’s cloudy, the power is off/lower.

I think I should probably mount this to one of the fence posts eventually, but it’s working for now.

The other benefit to the pump circulating water is that it should help prevent the water from freezing in the winter, assuming the pump can function in the cold weather.

Due to some issues with the solar pump, I ended up adding a wired pump later and just running an outdoor extension cord. Now I have both pumps running inside the trough.

Bottom Dwelling Plants

In a natural pond, you’d have plants along the bottom as well. This gives the fish a place to hide. I purchased six or so Anacharis plants and sunk them to the bottom of the trough. These should survive each year and reproduce.

This plant helps removes nitrates from the water and “starve” the algae so that it can’t grow/take over. Nitrates are caused by waste in the water… I assume the goat use of the trough will introduce some waste products to the water, but there’s also waste from the fish, bugs and debris that falls into the pond.

Cleaning the Trough

I purchased a cheap toilet brush over at the Dollar Tree and hung it on a hook on a post by the trough and duck water. If needed, I can scrub the sides of the trough down.

Clean toilet brush to scrub the sides of the trough as needed.

Occasionally, I refill and let the trough water run over, effectively doing a water change. You don’t want to do more than a 20% or so water change at a time ideally for the health of your fish.

If things were really bad I might attempt a 50% water change, but so far the water has been clear and the fish are active inside the trough. I’ve been pretty happy with how this is working out.

Shade

While I haven’t added this feature yet, my plan is to eventually add shade over the trough to keep the water cooler in the summer.

Trough Setup For the Goats

Just to explain quickly how we set this up, I placed half of the trough inside the goat pen and half outside of it. There’s a post on either side with a board across. I have wire fencing across the top, but cut the bottom out so the trough could slide in.

I tried to bend any sharp pieces of fencing away from the goats and towards the outside of the pen.

Full water trough with plants in it, stuck between two fence posts. Wire fencing above the trough and a board to hold the fencing in place.

There’s a little bit of a gap on either bottom side of the trough, but my goats can’t fit through. I may need to make adjustments later if we have baby goats around.

If you have particularly adventurous goats who like to escape, you may want to set this up different- perhaps skip the solar pump or attempt to cover the wires in another way. I imagine the goats COULD use the sides of the trough to jump up and over the fencing. Our fence is 5′ here and our goats haven’t attempt to get over it. They HATE water so I don’t see them taking a chance at using it as a stepping stool.

Issues and Thoughts

This worked for a while, but I have had to make some special adjustments to our setup because I let my ducks in the goat pasture now that they’re older to eat the ticks. If the ducks get in, I need to do a lot more water changes. They are soooooo dirty. I’ve been rigging baby gates over the trough to keep them out.

I’m hoping adding a roof over the top will make it harder for them to get in there, but quite frankly they keep out smarting me so we’ll see.

Ducks can dirty a pond (or trough or any body of water) really quickly so I’m hoping to puzzle out the best method for naturally keeping this trough clean. Or keeping them out.

Love creative homestead ideas? Check out these posts too: DIY Duck House | Goat Barn Accessories | Framing the Goat Barn | Siding & Roofing for the Goat Barn | Easy Solar Lighting for a Shed or Barn | Beginner’s Guide to Milking Goats | No Mess Duck Waterer

Hope this helps you work smarter, not harder! Please share and pin this post!

How to keep a water trough clean and algae free for your goats or other livestock.
water-trough-clean
Yield: 1 Water Trough

How To Keep A Water Trough Clean

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

See how easy it is to keep your animal's water trough clean with this simple setup. Plus it uses no chemicals.

Materials

  • Trough with drain
  • Small gold fish
  • Pond Plants
  • Toilet Brush 

Tools

  • Water Pump

Instructions

  1. Fill the trough with water.
  2. Place half the trough inside the goat pen and half out.
  3. Add pond plants.
  4. Install water pump.
  5. Add gold fish.
  6. Clean the trough with a toilet brush.

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