Last winter, we were able to score a great deal on IBC totes from a distributor a couple of hours away. Instead of paying several hundred dollars for one of these bulk containers, we instead paid several hundred dollars for several of them.
IBC totes have a lot of uses on a farm or homestead – it’s all about being aware of their benefits so you can make them work for you.
Here’s what you should look for.
What Are IBC Totes?
IBC totes are large containers designed to hold bulk quantities of water, other liquids, or granulate substances.
IBC stands for “intermediate bulk container.” These totes can be mounted on a pallet and are made out of industrial-grade materials. They are capable of being stacked and can easily be moved with a forklift or with the forks on a tractor.
IBC totes can be flexible or rigid, holding anywhere between 285 and 2930 liters of fluid. Totes are usually made out of plastic, metal, wood, aluminum, folding plastic, fiberboard, or a combination of any of these materials.
The IBC totes we purchased were made out of plastic and enclosed in metal cages. This makes them incredibly handy for long-term use. As a farmer, it’s important for us to be able to find ways to do things smarter (and with less effort involved).
Can You Reuse IBC Totes?
IBC totes can be reused if they are in good condition and were not previously being used to store hazardous materials. Clean the interior with bleach and water before reusing. If you plan on storing food, it’s best to invest in new, food-grade containers.
9 Ways to Use IBC Totes on a Farm or Homestead
1. Rainwater Collection
We are lucky enough to live on well water and so we don’t pay for access to a town water supply. We also do not live in a particularly arid climate.
However, if either of those circumstances applies to you, you are probably already thinking about the many benefits of harvesting rainwater. Truth be told, it’s something I have considered doing on my farm, too, if for no other reason than to reduce our waste and consumption.
You can easily use an IBC tote to collect rainwater. They are much larger than the 55-gallon drums that most people use for collection, plus they come with already built-in spouts so you can quickly dispense the water you have stored.
2. Livestock Waterer
This was the biggest reason why we invested in IBC totes. We wanted a better way to store and move water to our livestock. We fill our IBC totes up once a week or so and then transport them out to our animals grazing in the fields. It is much more convenient than carrying multiple buckets of water out each today (trust me – your back and shoulders will thank you.)
Again, most IBC totes come with built-in spouts, so it’s also easy to dispense water back to your animals later. I’ve seen some people plumb these with fittings so that their animals can drink directly from the tank, if desired, too.
You could also cut the tote and use it as a drinking trough, if you choose.
Just make sure you invest in a food-grade tote if you are looking to use them for this purpose. You’ll also want to store your totes away from direct light to avoid the degradation of the plastic. If you don’t go through an entire water supply every few weeks, change it out so you don’t have to worry about algae building up.
If you get a food-grade IBC tote, you could also use it to store animal feed.
Aquaponics is a method of growing food and fish at the same time. You can easily use an IBC tote to create a self-sustaining environment that will allow you to do both. Since IBC totes can be stacked, they can be placed one on top of the other, with the garden tier on top of the fish pond to create an all-in-one system.
If you have a larger operation, you can string multiple totes together.
4. Rabbit Hutch
If you are keeping rabbits as livestock or as pets, you can make a DIY hutch out of an IBC tote. There will be some cutting involved so you can make a hinged door for entry and exit. However, when you’re done, you’ll have a cool multi-story home for your rabbits.
Almost every homesteader, at any scale, composts to some extent. There’s nothing quite like composting to help you produce rich, fertile garden soil. Composting in an IBC tote is smart – especially if you need to compost on a larger scale.
Just drill some holes for airflow and cut one larger hole where you can add your ingredients. Stir it up every few days, and you’ll be on your way to better gardening in no time.
6. Duck Pond
While you would, again, want to drain this every few days, you could easily make a DIY splash pool for your ducks with an IBC tote. Just cut it in half and fill it up!
7. Calf Hutch
Dairy farms are a dime a dozen where I live. I’ve seen quite a few people repurpose IBC totes into calf hutches. Just take the lid off and cut a door into the side. If you buy a tote with a cage, you can pull the cage off and use stakes to secure it to the ground outside of the tote – you’ll get a hutch plus a built-in pen.
8. Chick Brooder
Lots of people make chick brooders out of plastic storage containers, like Rubbermaid totes. IBC totes will work just as well. You can also use an IBC tote to make a small outdoor run and coop for your chickens. It follows the same premise as if you were making a calf hutch. However, you’ll flip the cage so that it provides aerial protection from predators.
9. Store Heating Oil or Firewood
You can store most heating oils in IBC totes as long as you don’t do so for the long term. IBC totes can become brittle from the cold, and you’ll want to keep them out of the sun. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have any problems.
You can also store firewood in your IBC totes. It’s a great way to dry out your wood. You will primarily use the metal cage and not the plastic part of the tote. Stack your logs inside the cage, leaving about a 2-inch gap between each stack in the cage. Keep filling until you can’t fit anymore!
Benefits of Using IBC Totes
One of the biggest benefits of using IBC totes, as opposed to other storage containers, like drums, barrels, or troughs, is that they are easy to move. Since they are a standard-pallet size, they can be picked up easily with the works of a forklift or a tractor.
Since they weigh a lot even when empty, they’re incredibly sturdy, too. You don’t have to worry about an accidental cave-in when you are trying to move a tote that’s filled with water.
Despite their heft, they don’t take up that much space. They can be used to transport hazardous or flammable liquids (if this is something you find yourself needing to do on your farm).
They are remarkably easy to clean and to empty. Since most come with built-in spouts and valves, you don’t have to plumb up any separate features to rinse out your IBC tote, either.
Where to Find IBC Totes
For me, the biggest advantage of using IBC totes is that they are easy to find. You can purchase brand-new IBC totes from most wholesale distributors, but this can be quite costly. As I said, a brand-new, food-grade IBC tote is likely to cost you several hundred dollars.
However, feel free to get a little crafty here! Scour ads in the newspaper, Craigslist postings, Facebook Marketplace, and other sources for hidden treasures. You can often find IBC totes for sale (or for free) at certain points throughout the year.
The best places to look?
- Independent bottling companies
- Online vendors that sell them used
- Food warehouses or packaging facilities
- Facebook Marketplace
Just be creative! Once you find a good source for these totes, you’ll have stumbled upon a goldmine.
In our case, we were lucky enough to find a local man who had retired from a packaging facility. He had a deal with the facility where he was able to purchase used totes and resell them in bulk.
We now have a constant, consistent supply of IBC totes whenever we need them, although we bought quite a few, so hopefully, we won’t need more any time soon.
As your homestead continues to grow, consider using IBC totes in one of these unique ways. You’ll save money, time, and energy with these creative solutions.