Blog    |    Plastic vs. Metal Water Trough

Plastic-vs.-Metal-Water-Troughs

There are two types of farmers in the world: Those that sow the seeds, spray the weeds, and sit back until it’s time to harvest the crop… and farmers that work every day caring for livestock.

Handling livestock is a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year kind of job. Dairy farmers don’t take vacations, because those cows need to be milked twice a day. Beef cattle and sheep need to be moved from pasture to pasture. Even chickens need to be fed every day.

What do all these livestock farmers have in common? They need troughs to supply their livestock with food and water every single day. Unlike their crop-farming counterparts, they cannot simply depend on the rain to take care of their animals. Drinking from puddles and stagnant ponds can lead to sickness and death that adds up to thousands of dollars worth of loss. No, these farmers need a steady supply of certified clean food and purified water to make sure their cows, horses, goats, pigs, and yes, even chickens, grow up healthy and strong. That ensures that our food is safe and clean.

If you are in the market for a new water trough, it is important to know that there are several different kinds available to you. One of the longstanding traditional forms of water troughs is the metal water trough. It likely surpassed wooden troughs as metals became more available and easy to mass produce in the 1800s. Two centuries later through, there are many other materials capable of making good water troughs. Chief among these today are plastic water troughs.

Plastic Water Troughs

Plastic water troughs (sometimes called poly water troughs) are available wherever there are thirsty livestock. They are engineered by specific polymers that can be improved and updated with time to create stronger and lighter plastic water troughs. They are engineered to be UV light resistant, preventing them from breaking down as quickly when left in direct sunlight for long periods of time. They can come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, depending upon the needs of the buyer.

Pros

The pros to choosing plastic water troughs are that they are lightweight and easy to shape, which makes them easy to install, and easy to move if necessary. You will not face issues connecting them to other materials. They are able to adapt to any kind of metal or polymer.

If they are created with UV protection, a chemical which prevents the plastic from becoming brittle in the sunlight, a plastic water trough will outlast a metal water trough. Plastic water troughs do not suffer damage from rust or corrosion, and even metal water troughs typically have a plastic lining to slow down the natural corrosion process they face.

Plastic water troughs can be self-cleaning which makes them less expensive to maintain than metal water troughs. In addition, plastic water tanks that are created from food-grade polyethylene provide the purest quality water. Furthermore, since plastic is less conductive of heat, it can often keep it at much cooler temperatures.

Cons

The downside of plastic water troughs is that they are not as strong as metal water troughs, though they are still more impact resistant. This means that they are more likely to break or crack if something heavy falls on them, but they are less likely to dent if they are dropped or hit. It is also more difficult to create them in sizes as big as metal water troughs. However, you can always double up and use two troughs to serve the same area as one larger metal water trough.

Many plastic troughs will need a framework. They will not hold up on their own. Any straight-sided, flat-walled rectangular, or square tank will bow outward and will need an external frame for self-supporting to prevent failure. Anything filled over 18” needs an external frame to prevent failure. However, cylindrical or Round tanks will not bow. They are self-supporting.

Metal Water Troughs

Metal water troughs, sometimes called galvanized water troughs, are a more traditional kind of water trough. They are often physically stronger than their plastic counterparts but require some special care, particularly a plastic liner, to be sure the water they hold is safe for your livestock to drink.

Pros

Most of the pros of metal water troughs are related to their physical strength and durability compared to plastic. They indeed are stronger and bulkier, and that allows you to make them in bigger sizes than plastic water troughs. They withstand heat and weather as long as they are cleaned regularly to prevent rust and corrosion. Galvanized water troughs are also less likely to crack or break due to impact, but they are more likely to dent. This only applies to the outer, metal frame. This inside plastic lining is more fragile and precautions must be taken to keep it from cracking or breaking.

Cons

The biggest weakness of metal water troughs is that they are susceptible to rust and corrosion. This constant problem eats away at the physical strength and durability of metal water troughs. It also can taint the water with zinc and other minerals which may cause sickness in your livestock. Copper, in particular is especially toxic to sheep and should not be used for storing their food or water.

To prevent rust and corrosion, and the tainted water that follows, you need to clean your metal tank regularly and inspect all the joints that may have exposed screws or bolts. Improper maintenance can result in a tank that is too damaged to repair. In areas that get especially hot, you may need to provide a means of cooling the water because metal conducts heat all too well.

Metal water troughs are not as easy to install as plastic. Not only are they bigger and bulkier, requiring a stronger foundation to sit upon, the metal joints and connections are not as easily adaptable to other connections. Remember, not all metals expand or contract with heat and cold at the same rate. So, if you have a steel frame and try to connect a brass or copper valve on it, it might work well during the spring and fall, but it may grow loose or too tight, causing cracks or disconnection in the warmer summer months and the colder winters.

Plastic-vs-Metal Trough

Further Considerations

The importance of aesthetic appeal may vary from person to person. Not everyone is in the market for a hot pink water trough. However, many kinds of farm equipment end up painted in certain colors to support local athletic teams. The same is true for larger organizations that like to keep their property equipment sporting the company color. If the color of your water trough is important to you then you should almost certainly go with a plastic water trough because a metal water trough is going to be much more limited in color and shape.

The other important consideration for almost everyone is pricing. Plastic water troughs and metal versions start off at similar prices in the smallest sizes, with metal troughs costing only about ten dollars more. However, as that math continues on up through the sizes, you are looking at metal water troughs costing about 110% more, or just over twice as much as plastic water troughs.

The lower quality you get in metal water troughs, the more you open yourself to dealing with rust and corrosion and the need to replace the entire tank. In general, you can expect most plastic water troughs to be 35% cheaper than high quality metal water troughs, but this will depend upon the size, type, color, and brand of tank you purchase. You have to keep cost of ownership in mind as well — how much time and cleaning product will you spend scrubbing rust off a metal trough, and how often will you have to replace it when the rust buildup is too much?

There are probably situations in which it would be wiser to buy metal water troughs. For example, if you require an extra large single tank that will be permanently set in place, you may find it more feasible to use a metal rather than plastic tank. You will have to have a good cleaning and maintenance plan in place, and you will probably have to replace the plastic inner lining over the years. Keep an eye out for rust and be careful of anything that might dent it. Other than that, it should serve you well.

However, if you need something a little smaller than the largest size available, you can usually save a little money (and quite a lot of time on maintenance) by going with a plastic water trough. Plastic is an especially good choice if you want to make sure your water is free from contaminants, with no worries about rusty water making your animals sick. If you think you might want some cool shapes or colors, plastic is the best choice for you. And if price efficiency is a big deal for you, buying a plastic water trough is one of the best choices you can make.

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