Blog    |    How to Choose the Best Water Trough for Cattle


Choosing a water trough may not be very high on the list of priorities for those raising cattle, but choosing the right water trough for cattle can make a big difference. Water from poorly built or poorly maintained troughs can cause illness in livestock, costing you money over time in vet bills and lost profits. Good water troughs not only give you peace of mind about the health of your livestock, but are also hardy and durable, so you do not needlessly waste your financial resources repairing or replacing your cattle’s water trough.

So, what criteria should you consider when purchasing a water trough for cattle?

Find the Right Size

First you should consider the size of trough you need. This is not necessarily an easy task. As you plan out the dimensions of the trough you should get, you should consider the number of animals you currently have, as well as any planned growth. Don’t settle for the number you have at present, or you will not be able to grow your herd. Instead, plan out where you hope to be in the next ten years and go with that number.

The smallest size you can get for a cattle trough is usually around 140 gallons. Many cattle farmers choose 500-gallon water troughs in order to provide their animals with constant access to clean water without the need for constant refilling.

Which Shape Fits Your Needs?

Shape is also an important consideration. Many troughs need a framework because they cannot hold up on their own. If your water trough for cattle has any straight sides or flat walls, such as rectangular or square tanks, it will bow outward. The answer to this is to build an external frame to prevent failure. Any straight-walled trough filled over 18” needs an external frame to prevent failure. Once bowing has occurred it is difficult to remedy, so it is important to have your framework set up before you fill your tanks.

However, Cylindrical or Round stock tanks will not bow. Their structure is self supporting. As long as you do not have your trough backed up near a wall and can get a size big enough to fit your herd, it may be advantageous to get a round or oval stock tank to save you the cost of building a framework.

Materials Matter

Invest in a trough that’s durable and fit for the intended purpose. Cattle are not fast moving creatures in general, but they can pack quite a push, especially when congregating together for a much needed hydration break. You don’t want one accidental shove to crack your tank, ruining the water for all. Choosing the material for your water trough for cattle is essential in determining how tough your trough will be. Here are some highlights of different materials:


Metal water troughs for cattle are fairly durable in that they are unlikely to crack their frames. However, joints can be bent, and pipes can be misaligned, causing plumbing issues and water leakage. Probably the most common failure in a metal water trough would be the cracking of the inside plastic liner, which protects the water from leaching unhealthy minerals from the tank.


Concrete tanks are probably the most durable. Once they are poured, it is unlikely that they will be moved by anything or anyone. That strength is their downside as well though, because they require on-site maintenance rather than having any ability to be moved for cleaning, and because they must be formed and poured, their installation is quite expensive.


Fiberglass tanks are light and easy to install, but they are perhaps the most prone to crack from to any abuse by livestock or handlers. They also require a special coating to be considered food grade, to ensure the safety of your cattle.


Plastic water troughs for cattle are the most versatile. They suffer some vulnerability to cracks under abuse, but they can be made with UV resistant material which will prevent them from becoming brittle after spending many days in the open sunlight. They are also the most likely to “bounce back” after a hit rather than crack or dent like the other materials.


Safety First

When it comes to water troughs for cattle, there are two kinds of safety you should consider.

The first is the physical safety of the trough. For fiberglass troughs, this is perhaps the one area they are the weakest in performing. They are susceptible to cracking if cattle hit them hard enough, which is sure to happen, as cows aren’t always the most graceful creatures. Those cracks can cause sharp edges that can injure your cattle if not dealt with quickly. They also can develop cracks if there is a sudden drop below freezing temperatures. For this purpose, concrete or plastic troughs are superior.

However, there is a second kind of safety to consider as well: water purity. Metal troughs will leach zinc into the water, because rainwater is slightly acidic by nature. Any copper piping can leach copper into the water as well, which can have even more harmful effects on your cattle than zinc. Concrete water troughs for cattle will leach lime into the water supply, which will take away the acidity of the water. Only plastic water troughs for cattle can be engineered to be food-grade material and eliminate the concern for leaching unhealthy minerals into the water.

If you have copper pipes that fill your trough, there is no need to panic. There are two ways you can help prevent copper from leaching into your troughs from pipes. The first is to get a filter and attach it to the tap. This will catch those unhealthy minerals before they reach your drinking water. Another, simpler method is to flush the water out of the pipes that you use it to fill the trough for the first few seconds. Even if your tap goes directly into the trough, you can easily remedy this by attaching a small hose to the tap and redirecting the first few seconds of water before using it in the trough.

Supply Systems & Regulations

Now it is time to think about how you will get water into your trough. What kind of weather situations will you face? Are there certain seasons you will need to make accommodations for freezing temperatures? Just because you have a trough that may be resistant to freezing and cracking itself does not mean your water and your water pipes may not freeze, thus preventing your cattle from getting the water they need.

You may also need to do some research on what type of regulations your farm needs to adhere to. This helps you in two ways. First, it keeps you from being fined for not following local regulations. Another reason to look into regulations is to have more opportunities to receive grants. There is money to out there and people who are willing to invest in you, but you will need to be sure you are operating according to their standards and regulations. You will only be able to do that if you find out what those regulations are.

For example, some professional trough installers work to create air gaps to comply with regulations for backflow. Some of these same tanks are also approved for farm development grant schemes. If you would like to find out more about this, check with your local professional trough installers. They can be a great source of information on grant possibilities as well as general recommendations for purchasing and installing your water trough for cattle.

Green solutions

Along with regional regulations, most of which are used to help protect your cattle and the surrounding environment, you may be looking for eco-friendly possibilities in water troughs. Plastic water troughs are by far the most eco-friendly solution because they can be completely recycled and/or reused. Concrete troughs are not meant to be moved, let alone recycled. Metal and fiberglass troughs are more difficult to either re-use or recycle because they have special coatings and inner linings that need to be replaced over time.

However, plastic water troughs for cattle can simply be melted down and re-engineered into any shape, size, or color, and they will already be made of food grade material. In fact, when you purchase a new plastic water trough, chances are good that it is made of recycled materials. If being environmentally friendly is important to you or your farm, plastic water troughs are the way to go.

As you can see, you have many options available to you when purchasing and installing a water trough for cattle. Following these guidelines will ensure that you’re able to find a trough that will meet your needs for the size of your herd as well as your specific circumstances regarding climate, budget, and supply systems. If you have more questions, reach out to the experts at GoToTanks for more information about how plastic water troughs can be a great fit for your livestock’s watering needs.

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