View Full Version : Advice on installing Nelson waterers in paddocks

Lady Counselor
Apr. 13, 2011, 12:40 PM
So I have some questions about installing at least one Nelson waterer in my main paddock, and I'd like to pick the brains of those who have done this. I'm wondering which model works well, and also if my land is even suitable for them. I did a search, but none of the threads contained the questions I have.

Water table: I am not far from a fair sized brook, and backed by a larger river. The soil here is typical river bed stuff, sand, rocks, gravel and silt. In places, especially places where the waterers could ideally go, the water table is high. Can they be installed ok? I see they need deep holes under them and the site mentions that they aren't good in high water table zones.

Town water or well point: I have town water piped into the barn. But, to run pipe out where it would be placed would require some work. Essentially it would require pulling up the entire alleyway matting and laying it down through there and reinstalling everything. Can I use a well point if I have enough water? If so, how far from the paddock area and my septic field would I have to be with it?

Models: If the water situation is resolved, then which model is better? I'm debating between the 760-24 inch model (stainless tube 24" high) or the 760-10 (a shorter stainless that mounts on top of a concrete pipe that comes up out of the ground.
Is one better than the other for colder winters and durability with the animals?

Any other suggestions for waterers that work other than Nelson? Biggest issues I have now with the 100 gal. troughs are:
Keeping them filled, they drain them down tremendously, sometimes an entire trough in a day.
Keeping them ice free. I have at least one who tries to destroy heaters.
Malfunctioning heaters: twice now I've had the tank heaters go bad. When they do, I notice they overheat the water and flip my circuit breakers. Not good.
Keeping them hassle free for times when I have horse sitters tending to them. In the winter, dragging the hoses out and doing it can be a PIA. I don't mind so much, but it's one less thing to worry about.
Ease of cleaning, especially in the winter. I dump/scrub/refill every other day. In freezing weather that's a drag.

Thanks for any and all advice.

Apr. 13, 2011, 01:31 PM
My b/o installed 7 of them several years ago and they have been great. Most are the heated model that is about 2' tall. there are about 40+ horses there and it sure has made life a lot more pleasant. They have needed very little in the way of repair. We have a fairly high watertable but I don't think it had too much impact on the installation since they only had to go below the frostline. They rented one of those machines that digs a narrow trench to lay the pipe and electricity.

The one in the mare's pasture malfunctioned the other day and it was kind of funny watching them stand by the waterer when there was a 100 gal. tank about 10 feet away. While the DH was fixing that one and the electricity was off, one of the geldings in the adjacent field was banging the bowl looking for water. I guess they really are smart enough to figure out how they work.

My gelding was one of the last ones to decide to use it. Ultimately I threw some apple chunks in the bowl for him to fish out. After that he was fine.

I did chores there years ago, year-round, dragging the hose out of the basement in the house, dragging buckets where the hose wouldn't reach, pounding out ice, scrubbing... well everybody knows the routine. I can't convince the kids that do chores now how much easier life is with waterers and a Gator.

Apr. 13, 2011, 01:41 PM
We have one and love it. It's the shorter model and the concrete comes up out of the ground, and we have a wooden housing the waterer sits on for access to the pipes. We have 4 horses.

I am not sure what you mean by a well point? Ours ties into the house/barn plumbing - are you think it will pull water directly from the ground? That I don't know about.

Our pipe goes down well below the frost line. There is heat tape and insulation around it and on once a blue moon it freezes far down. We keep a light bulb in the wooden housing which keeps things warm when the outside temperature dips below 10 - so for most of the winter I need the lightbulb in addition to the heat tape but I think that's unique to my installation which we did for our own ease of access.

Apr. 13, 2011, 07:42 PM
We've had good luck with the Mirafount Model 3465 waterer:


What we like about them better than Nelson waterers is that the blue balls both seal the opening off so bugs and algae don’t get in, and they also are visible when the unit is working or are clearly NOT visible if the unit isn’t working and therefore has no water and so the balls have dropped out of the way. Talk to the Mirafount company about how many horses need to be drinking from it for it to stay ice free without a heating element. We have the version with the heating element, but depending on location and number of animals drinking from it, you may or may not need it. Between the balls sealing the water inside the insulating plastic, and the water flow from the water refilling every time a horse drinks, it does a very good job staying thawed in winter and providing a dependable water source.

Apr. 13, 2011, 10:16 PM
Tap into your existing water supply. If you drive a point, you'll also need electricity and a pump, plus if you've got rocks, driving a point can be challenging.

If you go with Nelson (and I love them!) follow their instructions to the letter.

Lady Counselor
Apr. 14, 2011, 11:11 AM
Hey thanks everyone. I really want to do this, and so far have yet to see one reason why not. It was just the layout of the land and the technical details of installation that stopped me. If the water table isn't an issue, I am going to go ahead and get it done this year. I'm so over hoses and frozen water tanks.
I'm thinking of doing the meter too, keep an eye on consumption.

Apr. 14, 2011, 11:20 AM
I installed a Ritchie eco fount this year. It is the best waterer I've seen.
I live in a very cold climate, so some of the installation things we did would not apply to you, but the functionality is the same overall.
To install we ran power and water lines in an 8ft deep trench. That's right, 8 ft down! For you I'm sure you could get away with less depth but our frost goes that far in.
The waterer has several features that I like:
-It is heated (obvious for us) so it keeps the water unfrozen all winter.
-It has 2 drinking bowls and each has a float in it that covers the water. I like this a lot, it saves power in the winter (costs less than half of my friends waterer) and keeps algae from growing in summer. Keeps the water cleaner too.
-Cleaning is very easy, the top lifts off with one turn of a key screw and you can just swoop it out, the inside is all stainless.
-It is on a wood platform right now, but we will change that to concrete as soon as we can in the spring, it was just too cold to pour when we put it in in the fall. I recommend concrete underneath for mud and longevity.

Apr. 14, 2011, 11:27 AM
Sorry if this link has already been posted, but I like these MUCH better:


No electricity needed, never freeze if properly installed and if you have problems, you can just pick up the phone to the guy who invented them and he will help.

I've had one in my pasture for 5-6 years and it's only had one repair (the wire that works the paddle broke and took about 5 minutes to fix).

Otherwise it's been problem free except on one occasion -- some brain-trust horse picked that spot to poop (o/o a 5 acre field!) and of course the poop froze, none of the horses would drink and the whole shebang came to a halt.

After spending 30 minutes chipping frozen horse turds o/o the bowl, I poured hot tap water down the tube and eventually got it going again.

Otherwise, it's been great!!

And, like I said, you never have to worry about electricity.

Oh, and I live about 90 miles south of the Canadian border, so it gets pretty darn cold up here...

I did alot of research into automatic waters before I bought, and I've been very happy with my choice.

Apr. 14, 2011, 03:01 PM
I had winter problems with my Nelson. The little curved copper fill tube would freeze in sub zero temps when the wind blew. (cold Wisconsin) The water bowl sits in a 'basket' that has a counter balance, the weight of the water tips the whole thing and the water shuts off by a button valve under neath the basket. The heating element sits below.All of this is pretty well protected by the heavy metal housing but because the bowl has to move/tip it isn't sealed and thus strong wind and super cold air can sneak in. Sure it only happened in those extreme conditions but that is when I really didn't want to be out there with a hair dryer. We had one horse that would mess pushing the bowl around un-seating it from the basket and the water would flood the unit. If you have hard water the valve will need replacing periodically.
Another local stable put in Nelsons, on pedestals in paddocks. She had talked with me about my problems and thus did extra insulating and even a backup heat tape. That definitely helped until she developed an electrical short and some of the waters were giving the horses shocks. It all ended up having to do with how it was all installed.....which is probably the main point.....
Any waterer needs to be properly installed and by a company that stands behind their work. My neighbors Richie has been a nightmare, 99% due to installation mistakes.

Apr. 14, 2011, 03:09 PM
I'm at a loss about those waterers.....they said they had no power but the waterers still worked......I understand that the system has a drain back to below frost so you don't nead a heater but with no power what pumps the water to the waterer ?

Apr. 14, 2011, 03:18 PM
We've used both Mirafount and Nelson, totalling almost 20 units. Both work well when properly installed. Winterization and heating are absolutely critical, and the Nelsons are a little more sensitive to freezing as an earlier post described. My Mirafounts are not heated at all, but at zero F or below we have to throw a heater into them. They're also getting old and I'm forever replacing floats and balls and adjusting. But I agree with an earlier post - WHEN they're working properly, it's heaven. Just remember there's no such thing as maintenance free, and the amount of maintenance required exponentiates with age. And keep a representative set of repair parts.

I know that no one believes it, but I've got one horse who can take a Nelson apart even when it seems to me to be properly installed and locked.

Apr. 14, 2011, 06:41 PM
Here is a link to the Ritchie waterer:

Apr. 14, 2011, 06:57 PM
Personally I think Nelsons are a PITA. The adjustments are much more touchy than a float type waterer, I have had trouble with outdoor ones freezing WITH a heating element and had one that had a short in it from the heating element (you would get zapped if you touched the water) and 3 different electricians could not figure out why. I have had much better luck with Ritchie waterers and would do a Ritchie over a Nelson.

Apr. 14, 2011, 09:00 PM
Since the posts are veering anti-Nelson I have to chime in that I've had four in my pastures for the past six years and never had a maintenance problem until this year when I let mud build up around the base and the water could not drain away, shorting out the heater. But that is not Nelson's fault.

Also, if they are in use, they don't get algae growing in them; they couldn't be easier to clean -- unlatch the top, pick up the bowl, dump it, put in back on its base, screw the top back on, done.

I think they are fantastic.

Apr. 15, 2011, 12:13 PM
I'm at a loss about those waterers.....they said they had no power but the waterers still worked......I understand that the system has a drain back to below frost so you don't nead a heater but with no power what pumps the water to the waterer ?


Not that I'm a whiz at these things, but the water is always there in the pipes below the frost line.

When the horse pushes on the paddle, it opens a valve down below the frost line, which allows the water to rise up to the bowl.

Once the horse is finished drinking, it drains back down to below the frost line.

Again, I have to say I've been VERY happy with mine. You do have to clear snow away from the bowl, but you'd have to do that with any waterer out in a field.

Also, if it is super bitter weather (like sub-0 temps), I will coat the paddle with some butter-favored cooking spray or corn oil to make it more muzzle friendly.

That would be the only part of the design I would change....to coat the paddle in some type of plastic or "non-stick" coating.

However, none of my horses have had issues with it, so I guess it works.

And, I may be totally jinxing myself to even mention this, but I've never had a colic on my place is over 16 yrs....so they ARE drinking.

I like the fact you don't need electricity, because #1 it would be SUPER expensive to run it all the way out there and #2 I've heard too many horror stories about shorts in automatic waters...then the horse stops drinking completely.

I plan to put another one in this summer....

May. 24, 2011, 07:15 PM
I just finished installing two Bar Bar A this afternoon and they are fantastic. The professional that I hired to install them has experience with every manufacturer in the market (Nelson, Ritchie etc) but had never installed one of these. Upon inspection he immediately commented "wow .. what a great design .. simple but smart", which gave me some confidence I had made the right choice in buying the Bar Bar A's. The horses started drinking within two minutes of being put back into the pasture. They love 'em .. and I'm going to love not pushing over 100 gal tubs daily during the summer to scrub out green stuff!!

May. 24, 2011, 09:24 PM
If your water table is high, you are going to have problems. We talked directly to Nelson about this very issue and they said there was no way to make their product work. My guess is any of the waterers that use ground heat to keep from freezing will not be compatible with a high water table.

May. 25, 2011, 01:51 PM
I had the 760-10 installed about 5 years ago in SE PA. It's no WI, but there are definitely stretches of subzero weather. Never had ANY issues with it freezing, but it did start giving my horses shocks. Turns out we needed to reground our electric and then it was fine.

The one thing I did wrong was install it too close to the overhang of our barn (it's in the drylot where the dutch-door stalls open out directly into the drylot). When it rains the dirty roof water drips directly into the waterer (as does the morning dew), and when it snows & then melts, big piles of snow slide off the roof and land on it. Means it needs to be cleaned more often and cleared out if a big pile of snow lands on it.

But I still loved it- saved me TONS of time with the water trough routine.

May. 25, 2011, 04:41 PM
Here is a link to the Ritchie waterer:

winter where did you buy your Ritchie waterer?

May. 25, 2011, 05:15 PM
The water table where I live is consistently quite high (mound systems for septics abound) and the Nelsons have never been problematic. Don't know why that should have any effect at all on the waterers if they're installed correctly.

May. 25, 2011, 07:18 PM
Surprised about the water table issue too. We discussed the same with Nelson when we bought our 5. Here in CT we have a pretty high water table. Ground water galore...darned hard to drill a well and not find water. Lots of water. (fantastic water too) I get bubblers for a couple months each spring when everything starts thawing. Ground water has nowhere else to go and just bubbles up out of the ground. :eek: :lol:

But it could be different with different climates, areas and ground types. We have a high saturation due to rainfall amount coupled with underlying rock and ledge. Mostly rocky dirt for ground. It could be different for places with high water tables and lots of clay or sand or whatever.

Never had an issue with my Nelsons. My outdoor one is set in the concrete sonutube; so relies on both the built in heater to keep the bowl water unfrozen but also the ground temps to keep the water lines coming up from freezing. (3' of sonutube aboveground and 7' below ground. The water lines enter the side of the tube around the 4'6" depth)

We normally have weeks of below freezing and having cold snaps of 5-10 days of single digits to below zero isn't uncommon. That one has never frozen once. My only issue with that one is that the crows like to wash stuff in it and it's sometimes weird to check it and find a clothespin they stole, a frog's leg and once a small key. :confused: Freaking weird birds. :lol:

I set mine into a fenceline between 2 paddocks. That way no matter which paddock the horses are in, they have access to the waterer. I kept the posts on either side tall and added a board across the top to keep direct sunlight out of it.

Here's a photo of how it's installed. Not a close up, but look over the center of the gate and you can see the nelson set into the fence line. The top board is missing because we had just had our fence redone and I hadn't nailed the board back up yet.

I also have 4 inside, one for each stall.

May. 25, 2011, 09:25 PM
The water table where I live is consistently quite high (mound systems for septics abound) and the Nelsons have never been problematic. Don't know why that should have any effect at all on the waterers if they're installed correctly.

Because they rely on ground heat to keep the up pipe from freezing. If you have a hole full of water, it is going to freeze just below ground level and freeze your water supply.

May. 26, 2011, 10:56 AM
my advice...dont buy nelson...we dont carry them because they are a pain to fix and super expensive, we do carry all the ritchie and miraco waterers at a pretty low price, shoot me an email if your interested