If you are raising chickens, you know the importance of providing your flock with a clean and fresh source of water. What you may not realize is just how essential water is to your flock’s health. The need for water increases during the hot summer months. In the winter, a chicken’s intake will decrease, but that doesn’t diminish the importance water plays in vital body functions.
A good rule of thumb is that chickens in the summer will drink 2 times the amount of food they eat. In the winter, they will drink roughly 1.5 times the amount of food they eat.
Keeping fresh, unfrozen water for your chickens during the winter can be a challenge depending on the resources you have available. It’s imperative that even though your flock’s need for water may be diminished, it is still essential. Here’s why.
Why Water is So Important, Even in Winter
International chicken expert Kathy Shea Mornino explains that water is so important, if chickens lose their water supply even for a few hours, it can affect their ability to lay eggs for days or weeks.
- For Metabolism
Water plays an important role in all functions of a chicken’s metabolism. It regulates body temperature, helps digest food, and is used to eliminate waste.
- An Essential Nutrient
Water represents 70% of a chicken’s body weight. Hens will be more sensitive to a lack of water than a lack of food. It’s especially important for egg-laying hens as an egg is made up of around 75% water. Not enough water, no eggs.
- Dehydration Can Mean Death
Water enters a chicken’s crop and softens food, especially dry feed. If you are feeding dry food and don’t provide enough water, clumps of dry food can build up in the crop. This can put pressure on the chicken’s carotid artery and decrease blood flow to the brain. The result can be paralysis or death.
Another complication from not having enough water is that the split in the hard palate of the beak can get clogged. This split allows a vacuum to form in the chicken’s mouth which gives her the ability to draw in water. If this gets clogged, she will not be able to drink.
How to Keep Water From Freezing in the Winter Without Electricity
Want to know the secrets of chicken farmers who raised chickens in the winter long before the invention of electricity? They hiked to the chickens’ coop several times a day and changed the water. It worked but it was a lot of work. Since they didn’t have Netflix, there probably wasn’t much else to do on a cold and snowy winter’s day.
If you have better things to do in the winter than replacing the water every few hours, here are a few tips to keep the water flowing. Two factors are going to determine how you keep your water from freezing in the winter, electricity or no electricity.
Flexible Tub Method
Fairly deep, black, flexible tubs work best. If there is any amount of sun during the day, the black tubs will help keep the water from freezing. The tub needs to be filled every morning and every evening. When the water freezes solid, it’s easier to dump the solid cube out of a flexible tub.
To keep the water from freezing as quickly, try floating a few ping pong balls in the tub. If there is any breeze, the balls will get blown around by the wind, helping to keep the water surface from freezing. Also, the chickens will move the balls around in the process of drinking which will delay freezing.
Have two buckets. One you leave filled with water in the coop, the other filled with water in your house. Bring the fresh bucket outside with you and replace it twice a day with the frozen water. The frozen water will melt by the time you need to replace the outside bucket if you leave it in the warm house.
If you don’t have many chickens and you don’t want to swap out tubs or buckets, you can bring out a kettle of boiling water a couple of times a day. Be careful that you don’t scald your chickens, wait until the water cools before you give the girls access. Bring a large spoon to stir the water to make sure chunks dissolve and test the water temp with your hand before giving it to your chickens.
Bottle of Salt Water
Disclaimer, this is a method by A Chick and Her Garden that has not been personally tested. She swears it works so it may be worth a try.
This method does involve the purchase of a plastic gravity waterer. You can pick up one at your local feed store. There are many different styles of poultry gravity waterers on Amazon.
Please note, you do not fill your gravity waterer with saltwater. You will need one 20 oz. plastic bottle. Fill the bottle with ¼ cup of salt and the rest with water. Place the cap on securely. Fill up your gravity waterer with freshwater and drop in the bottle with the saltwater.
The science behind this theory is that the cold temperatures try to freeze the saltwater first because it has a lower freezing point. The energy pulled through the freshwater slows down the freezing process. While this method does not stop the freezing, it does slow it down reducing the need to change out the frozen water.
How to Keep Water From Freezing in the Winter With Electricity
Some backyard chicken raisers are against using any electric appliances in their coops. If you don’t fall into that category, you have a wide range of options to keep your chicken coop water from freezing in the winter.
Keep in mind that running a water heater will add to your electric bill. You have to decide if the extra cost outweighs the manual labor required to keep your chickens’ water de-iced. Your choice of heaters will vary if you have a large or small flock.
Safety is the biggest consideration. Whatever brand of water heater you choose, make sure it has a good safety rating. There are some other basic considerations when deciding which heater is best for your coop.
- One of the biggest issues for chicken owners is that water heaters are easy to fill. You don’t want to be struggling to fill your waterer in the dead cold of winter.
- Water heaters should be easy to clean. If you can’t clean the unit quickly and easily, cross it off your list. Coops tended to get crowded and messy in the winter. Having a difficult to clean water source will only add to your frustrations.
- Consider the material with which your heater is made. If you add apple cider vinegar to your chickens’ water, you may not want to use metal waterers as they will corrode with the use of vinegar. Plastic is a better choice in that case.
- Energy-efficient water heaters are best as they only activate when certain temperatures are reached.
- Research the electric cord on the heater you choose. Many of the cords are not very long. Make sure the unit is safe to use with an extension cord if it won’t reach your outlet.
- Check the maintenance requirements on your chicken water heater. Electrically heating your water will mean the growth of bacteria and algae. A water heater that is not maintained will not work well.
Rural Living provides a review on the best chicken water heaters in 2020. Here are some of the different styles of units that come well-rated.
K&H Pet Products Thermo-Poultry Waterer
- Poultry keeper favorite
- Thermostat controlled
- Gravity waterer made of sturdy BPA free plastic
- Comfortable handle to make carrying easy and reduces spills
- Water filter ring removes easily and keeps water cleaner longer
- Has a removable screen to filter out straw, shavings, and debris
- Chickens can’t roost on top
- Easy to fill, holds 2 ½ gallons
- Can be hard to clean because of the size of the opening
Harris Farms Heated Poultry Drinker Base
- One of the best and most trusted waterers
- Will keep water from freezing even in the coldest temperatures
- Good for larger flocks
- Automatic thermostat controlled
- Base is covered to protect from water or dirt damage
- Simple to use
- Very expensive
- Shouldn’t be used with plastic waterers
- Issues reported with the thermostat
Farm Innovators Model HP-125 Heated Base For Metal Poultry Founts
- Easy to use 125W base heater
- Thermostat only activates in temperatures below 35 degrees F.
- Protected cord for added safety
- Comes highly recommended
- Good even in the coldest temperatures
- Only suitable for doubled-walled waterers
- Should not be used with an extension cord
- Smaller capacity
- Can get dirty easily
- Some reports of shocks
API Pail De-Icer with Guard Pros
- Adjustable clamp makes the unit easy to attach to any water container
- Sturdy and will last many seasons
- 6 ft. cord included
- De-ices up to 15 gallons
- Heavy-duty heater
- Built-in thermostat
- Plug in and forget until spring
- Low maintenance
- Come complaints about the effectiveness
- Cord has been known to split
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