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Natural Tips for Keeping Horse Troughs Clean

keeping your horse’s 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 horse’s water 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. When you’re done, check out our ultimate guide to  deep cleaning a horse trough  and explore some alternative horse water trough types.


natural ways to keep horse trough clean

1. Use a smaller trough:

One of the reasons that horse 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 horses’ 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 horse’s 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. However, healthy goldfish that survive the first week have a very good shot at a long and healthy life in the bottom of your horse’s trough, living a life of luxury in a giant fishbowl and growing much larger than their aquarium-bound comrades.

Goldfish often survive winter in horse troughs, insulated by water and protected by their own biological protection. Our mid-Missouri farm tiny feeder goldfish can grow 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 depend on sunlight to grow. By installing a cover on top of a portion of your water 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 water 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  horse’s trough using a small garden pond water pump.



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Marion Hendricks

Thursday 11th of April 2019

Thank you. As for our watering troughs, we decided smaller is better. We don't mind filling them daily, and clean them often. But... We have our own well. When the pump went out, it was a week of pure Hades, buying water by the gallon for almost a week. We decided to buy a tote to store water for such emergency use. While there won't be bugs or food in the water, I'm still concerned about it becoming stagnant. At least now I know that depriving it of sunlight will help. I will cover it in darkness. Thanks again for the info. The horses and I are grateful!


Wednesday 17th of April 2019

It sounds like you are putting a lot of thought into it- as a horse owner who has survived a pump being out, I totally understand! A few other tips I'd offer: 1. You might check into rain barrels. Installing a rain barrel to collect water from your roof would ensure backup water on hand if your pump fails again. 2. If you use the tote- know that a really good (though "unnatural") tip is that you can safely add small quantities of bleach to water to purify it. As long as the concentration is low enough (you'll need to refer to an authoritative source for that- perhaps your extension office?) water treated with bleach is safe for both humans and horses.

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