The Fan Hitch Volume 13, Number 2, March 2011

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog
In This Issue....

From the Editor

British Antarctic Survey Monument Trust

Mistaken Identities

Piksuk Media’s Nunavut Quest Website

Product Review: Servus Boots

Tip for the Trail: Ice 'Fishing'

IMHO: Are We There Yet?

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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Tip for the Trail....

An ice free water bucket and my hand is still dry. The bucket holder is
just a galvanized pail with a couple of spring clips attached to its rim
and a stratigically placed drain hole in the bottom.   Photo: Hamilton

Ice 'Fishing'

by Mark Hamilton

Providing dogs with a supply of drinkable water during the cold winter months can be challenging. Long ago Sue and I made the decision not to use bucket-heaters as we were uncomfortable with the proposition that there was a safe way to combine very strong-willed dogs, water and electricity. So we pour hot water onto the icy surface or float a frozen bucket in a larger "dip-bucket" of hot water to quickly free the thick, heavy ice stuck to the sides so everything can be dumped and the bucket refilled.

Of the two methods, pouring in some straight hot water is certainly a lot quicker and less work, assuming the buckets aren't totally frozen. But while hot water results in an ice-fee surface, the now floating chunks of ice cool the remaining water so much that the surface starts to re-freeze much sooner than we would like. The net result: we found ourselves dipping and dumping through most of the winter, with the thawing method only practical during early and late winter.

This season we added a medium-sized mesh fry oil food skimmer to our wintertime kennel tools and it has significantly extended the period during which thawed dog water remains available. Here's how we use the skimmer. We pour about 2.5 qt (2.4 L) of hot water onto the frozen surface of each water bucket. Then we go back to the first bucket into which we poured hot water and easily scoop out all the floating 'bergy bits' using the handy-dandy skimmer. On colder mornings we sometimes need to smack the icy surface with a shovel handle to break it free from the bucket. For those occasions the skimmer is especially effective at quickly and efficiently removing all the floating ice chunks while keeping hands and mittens dry.

You should be able to find a fry oil food skimmer in the barbeque supplies section of a good hardware store, many of the "big box" stores or a kitchen supply store. The word "medium" refers to head size. You should also know that medium skimmers have longer handles than the small oil skimmers. Our all-metal skimmer has a 6 in. (15.2 cm) diameter head and a foot-long (30.5 cm) handle.

There's something else we do to slow down the rate at which dog water freezes. Instead of clipping our 9 qt (8.5 L) stainless steel water buckets directly to our kennel fencing, we rest them in bucket-holders made from 11 qt (10.4 L) galvanized pails. The bucket holders are what we clip in place to the kennel fencing. The rim of the water bucket fits closely to the rim of the bucket-holder. This creates a dead-air space around the water bucket that protects its sides and bottom from wind and cold. While nowhere near as efficient as a vacuum bottle, these bucket-holders extend the period that the dogs' water remains ice-free as the formation of ice down the side and into the bottom of the water buckets is retarded. In addition, our dogs are adept at licking through the surface ice or breaking through it with a paw. These bucket holders allowed us to keep water available to our dogs all during the daylight hours and for most of the overnight during the coldest parts of our northwest Connecticut winters with only two water changes (first thing in the morning and then in the early evening) or a morning thaw and an evening full change.

Do you have a tip you'd like to share? Email your suggestions to or snail-mail it to Mark Hamilton, 55 Town Line Road, Harwinton, CT 06791, USA.
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