natural ways to keep horse trough clean

keeping your horses water clean naturally can be a challenge – many horses love to slosh around in an open trough with both face and hooves, and even when they aren’t dirtying their water through play it’s common to find your trough filled with dropped food, insects, and on occasionally horrifying occasions in the heat of summer, small drowned birds or squirrels.

Constantly dumping filling troughs can be both expensive and wasteful of precious water.
In this article will be talking about a few non-chemical methods to keep water sitting in your horse’s trough fresh and clean.


1. Use a smaller trough:

One of the reasons that trough water grows sour is that the water sits stagnant for long periods. If you use a smaller trough and fill it often, the turnover rate will be much higher and the water will be naturally fresher. If you’re worried about your horses running out of water, you may be able to install automatic waterers in your pastor or make your own with a muck bucket and a water refill valve.

This part turns almost any vessel into an automatic waterer
This part turns almost any vessel into an automatic waterer

1. Use a LARGER trough

Remarkably, given that smaller troughs help keep algae and bacteria growth down, very large troughs can also combat algae and bacteria, in a different way: With the right care, a large trough can be a balanced ecosystem- where food debris dropped by horses feed goldfish, whose waste nourishes plants which filter the water in the pond. This kind of trough requires a 300+ gallon vessel and attention to balancing elements- and can even be an extension to a water garden or natural pool.

A mare drinks from an above ground water reservoir while her foal investigates an aerating pump. This type of large reservoir can capture rainwater and keep it fresh via a balance of plants and nutrients.

3. Goldfish

one strange and weirdly popular natural method for keeping horse troughs clean is to place goldfish in the water trough. Though a bit counterintuitive, in a large tank fish can actually reduce the amount of cleaning needed to maintain a clean trough and freshwater. A few small goldfish swimming in your trough can help control the mosquito, bug, and algae populations- even better, the goldfish do not need to be fed as they will feed off of algae, bugs, and food particulate dropped by horses.


The best place to get a fish that will survive and thrive in your water trough is a garden pond supply store where you can purchase a small feeder fish brand for outdoor ponds, if this is not available, you can just visit a local pet store and buy a few of their smallest goldfish. Buy at least six goldfish, as often goldfish from pet stores are not healthy enough to survive. The healthy goldfish should survive and thrive in the bottom of your horses trough, living a life of luxury in a giant fishbowl and growing much larger than their aquarium bound comrades.

Goldfish often survive winter, insulated by water and protected by their own biological protection, and on our mid-Missouri farm tiny feeder goldfish grew up to 3-4 inches over the course of several summers.

4. Cover your tank

covering the top of your trough can limit the amount of sunlight that reaches the water. Algae is one of the main causes of both foul water and scummy buildup on the inside of the trough, and algae depends on sunlight to grow. By installing a cover on top of a portion of your trough, you can cut light reaching the water by 50% or more and limit the growth of algae by the same amount.

To install a cover, cut a piece of plywood to fit the contours of your trough rim, leaving at least a 24″ x 24″ area open for horses to drink, and use C clamps to clamp the cover securely on top of the trough. To boost wintertime insulation, use two layers of plywood and add a layer of Styrofoam between them.

5. UV filter

borrowing from the water gardening subculture, one way to keep stagnant water fresh, healthy, and bacteria free is by using a UV filter to kill bacteria and algae. A UV filter requires a small investment, as well as an investment in a pump and housing for the units but can reduce your trough cleaning time exponentially. The trough placed next to a fence can be set to drain into a UV filter set insecure housing on the other side of the fence and pumped back into the trough using a small garden pond water pump.

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