6 Ways to Use IBC Totes on a Homestead

by Tommy Grant

I am seeing IBC totes sitting around homesteads and homes more and more. People are discovering the many uses these totes have. I’ve used two of them on my property for years, and I can attest to the fact that they are an incredibly useful piece of equipment to keep around.

Homesteaders, preppers, and even hobby gardeners can benefit from having a few IBC totes. How exactly can they be used? Following are some of the ways I’ve used these totes and the ways I’ve seen others use them.

#1 – Watering Animals

We recently experienced a power outage of two days, and though we were fine, I did have to resort to some of my stored water in the house to keep the chickens, dog, cat, honeybees, pig, and goats happy. It was nerve wracking knowing that if the outage had been any longer than those two days, I would have had to start getting really creative really fast if I wanted all of my animals to be able to drink. I should have done a better job at calculating my water needs.

one of my IBC totes used for watering animals

After the outage, I hooked one of my IBC totes up as a rain catchment system to my chicken coop roof. Whenever it rains, it fills the tank. With a full tank, no electricity, and zero rain whatsoever, I could probably get this water to last for pretty close to two weeks (without the pig).

That’s a pretty impressive buffer time to give you and your homestead time to figure out what you need to do once the power goes out.

#2 – Watering a Garden

Unless you live in the suburbs, I’ve seldom seen a garden that was within easy access of a garden hose. Even if you have a garden close to a garden hose, if you are on municipal water, you’re paying every time you turn the hose on. If you are pulling water from a well, you are depleting your ground water. That’s fine if you have plenty of water and there is not a drought, but if a drought strikes (the same time your garden desperately needs water), do you want to deplete your groundwater further? Oftentimes, people where I am at have to resort to rain barrels to keep their gardens watered, or they just let nature do its thing.

I have two garden beds: one that a series of hoses can manage to reach, and another way down at the bottom of the hill that would take me a 401k investment in hoses to reach. While I don’t mind hauling water down to the lower garden, the inconvenience of it makes it so that lower garden never does as well as the upper one does.

This is something that I’ve contemplated quite a bit: should I set up more IBC totes with rainwater catchment systems, and place them down by the lower garden?

If you can do this at your place, not only will you produce more in your garden, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy to boot.

#3 – Improve Homestead Efficiency

One of the things that Joel Salatin really taught me is that the farmer needs to always keep both hands full. Don’t walk down to the garden with only one bucket in your hands when you could easily carry two. Time is money, and the same principle applies to farmers. The more you can get done while you’re awake, the more efficient your homestead will run.

Rather than having to run around your homestead back and forth with buckets of water all over the place, think of the time and energy that could be saved by keeping what you need as close to where you need it as possible.

Here is my favorite Joel Salatin book:

How can you keep your water as close to where it needs to be (your garden or animals) as possible? IBC totes might be the answer.

#4 – Improvised Animal Shelter

I came across a second IBC tote via a friend of mine. I traded some firewood for it and then dragged this new-to-me IBC tote down to where I keep my pig, with the intentions of doing the same thing I’d done for my chickens – setting up a gutter-fed rain barrel.

I never got around to it.

A series of bad rainstorms did give me an idea though after my goats weren’t able to get into shelter in time. I made an ad hoc paddock shelter for the little guys. I took my angle grinder and cut out a square of the metal grid surrounding the tote, and then used the angle grinder to cut a big square through the plastic container.

Voila! An instant animal shelter!

Improvised shelter using IBC totesImprovised shelter using IBC totes

It works great, and it’s fairly light as well. The baby goats in particular loved it. All you have to do is toss a little bit of straw into the bottom and you’ve got a nice, comfy paddock shelter for your goats. It does seem to work better for goats and sheep though. Every time the pig was in the paddock with this, she absolutely refused to enter it.

#5 – Goat or Sheep Transport

I’ve never used IBC totes for this purpose, but a friend of mine has. They actually gave me the idea for the improvised shelter mentioned above. The friend’s daughter was involved in FFA and needed to get some sheep to a contest. The dad didn’t have any type of horse trailer or anything of the like though.

What he had was a pickup truck and an IBC tote. He used an angle grinder to cut out a square of the metal grid (as I did), but then he went a step further by removing the entire inner plastic tank. Whether that’s actually necessary or not is up to you, but the end result was a nice crate to take the lambs to the show.

The square piece of metal which was cut out was set aside and tied back into place as a makeshift door.

#6 – Water Storage for the Family

While I think there are a couple of caveats that need to be made here, you could easily set up one of these massive barrels as a source of water storage for your own family. Let’s say you set this up outside hooked up to one of your gutters as a form of water collection.

Sure, it can be used to water your plants, but your secret goal of this set up is to keep your family in water post-disaster. Note: you need to make sure that your water is clean before you drink it. Plan to filter it before consuming it! The other way you can use stored water in IBC totes, without needing to filter the water, is to use it as gray water, washing your body, flushing a toilet, etc. This would help you preserve your stored water for more important uses – drinking and cooking.

If you are using an IBC tote for this purpose, or even water for animals, I would highly recommend buying a cover for one to protect the water from the sun and limit the growth of algae.

5 Places to Buy IBC Totes

Now that you know how great IBC totes can be, you’re probably wondering where you can find one. I’ve looked around for these things for years, and here is where I’ve found to be the best places to look for these massive containers…


Craigslist is probably the perfect location to start your shopping for an IBC tote. It is where I purchased my first one. I’ve found that $100 is a fairly standard price here.

I don’t even remember what I was initially looking for (was it that taxidermy squirrel collection?), but when I saw one I knew it would be great for keeping my animals watered should the power go out at our house for an extended period of time.

Note: never purchase an IBC tote that was previously used to haul toxic chemicals. I made sure that every one of mine I ever acquired had a food history, not a pesticide history or some other form of industrial use that would potentially leave dangerous residue on the innards. To be entirely safe, you should probably buy a new IBC tote if you intend to use one to collect water for human use.


You can literally find just about anything on Amazon – IBC totes included. You’re going to need a really big mailbox, and the UPS man is going to hate you, but these are available for purchase online through Amazon.

They will cost you more on Amazon, but… that’s the price you pay for convenience.

Home Improvement Stores

I’ve actually seen these for sale at home improvement stores before, though it seems to be hit or miss. If you kind of like your mailman, and don’t want your mail to mysteriously start to go missing, perhaps you should look at picking up one of these containers from here rather than Amazon.

Food Factories

This is actually where one of my tanks originated. It had previously been used to transport a sugar solution to a food factory for the creation of some type of processed food. The farmer (whom I bought it from) bought it from the factory, rinsed it out really well, and then used it to water his cows.

If you live near a factory known for producing some type of food, this most certainly may be something to consider. They’re bound to have several of these just hanging around out back that they’d be more than happy to get rid of. Figuring out who to get into contact with about taking some of them off the factory’s hands would be the tricky part.

IBC Tote Accessories

There are a few other pieces of gear you’re going to have to have if you want to make your setup with these work.

A Cover

As I previously mentioned, if you’re going to regularly be using your container for water storage, this is a very good product to invest in. It keeps algae from blooming in your container. You can DIY this with a big tarp from Harbor Freight and some straps, but this is one of the faster, easier, and prettier means of doing it.

A Hose Adapter

You must have one of these. There’s no way around it. If you are going to set up one of these giant water containers for water collection, you’re going to be entirely unsuccessful unless you’ve attached one of these. They let you hook up a standard garden hose so that you can then direct the water wherever you want it to go.



  • PLEASE Carefully Check your Valve before ordering… IF You HAVE a Big CONCAVE Groove on your Valve behind the threads this adapter MAY NOT fit on your valve and you should not try to use the threads, because they are for a dust cap.

IBC tote hose adapterIBC tote hose adapter

What About the Top?

If you’re aiming to use one of these containers for rainwater collection, a very common question is what you should do to funnel the water into the top. Here’s the method I use. At the top of my container was a lid with a hole in the top of it. The lid screwed onto the container, making this the perfect base for my intentions.

IBC tote coverIBC tote cover

I grabbed a small piece of hardware cloth, held it over the opening, and then screwed the top back on top of it. I then directed the rainwater from my gutter towards this opening with a flexible spout. The hardware cloth helps to filter out as much dirt as possible and the flexible spout made it so that I didn’t have to work with any pain-in-the-butt guttering.

IBC tote modificationsIBC tote modifications

One Other Modification

I drilled in an overflow valve. I hadn’t done this initially, and as the container was overflowing due to heavy rain, all the water was seeping right into the chicken coop. My overflow valve helped to direct that water away once the container filled up. Initially, I actually had this overflow filling up another gigantic water container.

I also would like to point out that I don’t keep my tank full during the winter. It gets plenty cold enough to freeze that entire tank solid where I live, and I have no intentions of breaking my setup simply because I didn’t let my water out when pre-winter.

It’s a tradeoff and calculated risk on my part which I’m willing to take though. Whether it’s a good idea or not, who knows. But it’s what I do.

Down to the Last Drop

IBC totes have many uses for the homestead or prepper, and they’re easy to obtain. Whether you’re looking to improve your efficiency, better house your animals, or simply are looking for a means of water storage, these tanks can prove to be of great benefit in a number of ways.

What are your thoughts though? Are there other factors to consider here that we missed? Are there other uses that you can think of for these tanks? Let us know in the comments!

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