Ice Well
Ice Well

Ice Well

by J.R. Dawson, Senior Dairy Husbandman, Bureau of Dairy Industry

Ice wells for cooling and storing milk and cream on the farm may be a satisfactory solution of the refrigeration problem on many dairy farms where the usual methods are too expensive or impracticable.

The ice well “refrigerator” consists primarily of a pit in the ground in which a large solid cake of ice is formed by running a small quantity of water into the hole daily during freezing weather.

On a well-drained spot near the milk house and convenient to a well, a pit was dug 8 feet square and 9½ feet deep. The sides were boarded up with cheap lumber and the bottom covered to a depth of 1½ feet with coarse gravel to insure good drainage. A small house was built over the pit. The floor was of two thicknesses of planking with building paper between the layers, and it was built in sections to permit easy removal during freezing weather. Windows in the house provided air circulation in the winter, but were closed during the summer. A wooden rack or basket suspended from a pulley overhead served for raising and lowering the cans of cream and other food products held in storage.

Freezing was started in January, 1929. Two to four gallons of water were run into the pit each day and allowed to freeze until a layer of ice was started. Some difficulty was experienced in getting the first layer of ice to form because the water drained out rapidly. After the formation of the first layer, sufficient water was added each day to make a layer of ice from 1 to 3 inches thick, depending upon the outside temperature. By the end of February a solid cake of ice 8 feet square and 6½ feet deep had formed. When freezing weather was over, the house was closed tightly and the floor replaced.

The mean average temperature in this vicinity for January and February was -2.9° and 4.6°F, respectively. The highest temperature for the two months was 38°, and the lowest was -43°.

Storage of cream was started May 25 and the ice lasted until September 28, a period of 126 days.

Ice Well

Careful records were kept throughout the summer. Cream cooled with well water to 56.5°F and placed in the rack in the pit at 8:30am was cooled to 48° within three hours and to 42° by 4:30pm. Cream in cans placed directly on the ice was cooled to 34° in the same period. Cream was kept perfectly sweet for 14 days in July, the hottest part of the summer. The cream was in small lots, varying from 20 to 25 pounds. The temperature in the pit an inch above the ice varied from 32° to 42°. Six inches above the ice it varied from 44° to 50°; and a foot above the ice the temperature was never higher than 50°.

The mean average temperature for this locality for June, July, and August was 62.9°, 73.6°, and 70.6°F, respectively. The highest recorded temperature for the three months was 106°, in July. On 14 days in July and 10 days in August the maximum temperature was 90° or higher. Meat, fruit, and vegetables, as well as milk and cream, were stored in the pit and kept perfectly. No offensive odors were detected at any time throughout the summer in the well or in any of the stored products.

The results seem to indicate that the ice well will prove to be a satisfactory means of refrigeration on many farms in the regions having sufficiently low temperatures for the freezing of ice in winter. The work is being continued, with some slight variations in the construction of the well. The main points suggested for consideration in building an ice well are: Select a well-drained site; provide for good drainage, so the water can run away from the bottom of the pit; locate the pit near the milk house, and also near the water supply; and see that the floor of the house is tight, so the air circulation will be at a minimum in the summer. The cost of an ice well will vary, of course, but by using home labor and the cheaper grades of lumber it can be very low.