There are many ways to keep your chickens healthy all year long. One of the most important things you can do is provide them with enough water. But what are you supposed to do when winter arrives and makes watering more difficult?
Here are a few quick tips for watering your chickens through the freezing months of winter. Follow these tips to keep your chickens happy, healthy, and thriving – even when Old Man Winter comes knocking!
1. Provide Time to Adjust
Give your chickens very warm water when the temps outside are freezing to ensure that they are able to drink as much as possible before the water freezes over.
If watering using glass containers, make sure that you get the jar warm before adding warm water to it! If the glass is cold when you add the warm water to it… I’m sure you can guess what will happen… a broken glass. Yes, I admit it, I had to learn this the hard way. I had my blonde moment, okay?
2. Get on Schedule
In the past, chicken keepers just hauled buckets of fresh water to the coop several times a day, bringing frozen containers indoors to thaw out.
This can keep liquid water open in ehc coop, but constantly delivering water to the coop can be frustrating, time-consuming, and, if you work away from home, impossible.
There are more efficient and easier ways to keep chicken waterers open in the winter, but whatever method you choose, just make sure you get on a schedule. Be aware of freezing temperatures coming into the area, and plan ahead to make sure your chickens have the water that they need.
3. Buy an Electric Fount
One of the easiest ways to keep ice out of your chicken waterer is to let electricity do the hard work for you. Most feed stores sell electrically heated water fonts, which contain thermostats that warm the water when the temperatures drop below freezing.
These kinds of built-in thermostats can reduce the amount of energy needed to power the unit so you shouldn’t see a significant increase in your electric bill.
You can also use heated waterers that are just heated bases that can be attached to existing waters. These are generally meant to be used with galvanized waterers, so may allow you to economize by just using the waterer you already have.
You can also use heated waterers meant for dogs. These have heating coils that sit beneath plastic bowls. Although they work well for chickens, they rest on the ground, which means birds can scratch bedding and manure into them.
To prevent this, consider making a cradle of scrap lumber to elevate the bowl so the chickens can drink from it but can’t scratch bedding into it or tip it over.
Whichever kind of heated waterer you use, just make sure you exercise caution – you’re using electricity, of course, so you need to make sure the wire is away from the chickens. This will reduce the fire danger and risk of shock and can also prevent flammable litter from potentially igniting.
Don’t have power in your coop? You may want to consider running power out there. This might make it possible for you to brood chicks in the coop and will also let you install lights for after-dark visitations, if necessary.
You can run electricity to the coop yourself but know that hiring an electrician to safely run wire to the coop won’t be that expensive – and might ultimately be worth it in the long run!
4. No Electricity? No Problem
Don’t have electricity – and have no interest in running it to the coop? No problem! You can take advantage of nature’s heater – the sun.
Most backyard coops are lightweight enough that they can be moved with ease. Position your coop so that its window faces in a southern direction. Then, put your water bucket just next to the window so that the warmth of the sun prevents ice from forming.
Consider using a waterer that is made of black material or painted black to keep it even warmer. Some good options include black buckets made out of rubber. The color will be a major advantage to you, as will the material, since rubber won’t break and crack like plastic but instead can be flexed in case it freezes solid.
5. Add Insulation
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to heat your chicken coop in the winter. However, a few inches of insulation can make a world of difference in keeping your chickens comfortable- and in preventing your waterers from freezing.
This will not only make the building warmer in the winter but it will also make it cooler in the summer.
6. Build Your Own DIY Freeze-Proof Waterer
If you’re feeling crafty, you can even create your own freeze-proof chicken waterer. The easiest thing to do is to buy a small cooler. These are well-insulated, with smaller ones about the right size for chickens to drink out of.
Using a saw, cut a two-inch hole in the lid or place a weighted board over the top. You can fill the cooler with warm water, attach the lid, and put it in the coop – the chickens should learn quite quickly how to drink out of the hole.
You can also use a material like a Styrofoam bucket or an insulated bait bucket- just know that Styrofoam isn’t always leak-proof and chickens have a tendency to peck at and eat the material, too.
7. Don’t Rely on Snow and Ice
I have heard so many farmers say that they just let their chickens eat snow and ice to stay hydrated during the winter. Don’t do this! You’re playing (ironically) with fire in doing so.
Chickens need water in the winter. Although their hydration needs might not be as high as they are in the summer, they still need liquid water available. They can’t hydrate from snow and ice. Instead, you need to make sure they have open water at all times.
8. Don’t Restrict Water
Some people get frustrated with constantly going out to the coop to break open frozen waters, and supply fresh water. Because of this, they just offer water at certain times throughout the day.
Don’t do this, especially if you plan on keeping food out there! Your chickens need water to live and you’ll wind up with a coop full of dead chickens if you rely on this tactic.
9. Play Ping Pong
Well… perhaps not in the traditional sense! However, ping pong balls can be instrumental when it comes to keeping chicken water tubs open.
By floating a few balls in the water, any vibration or breeze will create waves and the balls will stop a solid layer of ice from forming. It works well in climates where the temperatures are right around freezing – if it gets much colder than that, this technique may prove to be ineffective.
10. Make a Sunroom or Greenhouse
Consider using plastic to create a solar sunroom (some old windows would also do the trick). When the sun gets up, it should provide enough of a greenhouse effect on plastic laid out over a watering area to keep the tubs from freezing.
Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse or hoop house on your property, you could just house your chickens there on the coldest days and nights! Even in sub-zero temperatures, you should not have a hard time keeping the waters open.
11. Skip the Old Wives Tales
There are some “hacks” related to keeping chicken waterers open in the winter that you might want to avoid. Although These won’t necessarily hurt, they aren’t going to do much to keep the water from freezing.
For example, some people recommend floating a bottle of saltwater in the tub. This, unfortunately, won’t keep the waterers open.
Another technique is to add apple cider vinegar to the water. Again, although apple cider vinegar offers many health benefits, it won’t keep the water from freezing as you might expect.
12. Invest in Freeze Proof Chicken Nipples
If you use nipple drinkers with your chickens, you’re going to have to go one step further when it comes to preventing a freeze. Consider investing in Freez Free brand nipple watering valves to make sure these don’t freeze up – and to keep your chicken waterers clean and unmuddied! – during the winter months.
13. Don’t Keep Chickens With Ducks Inside
There are lots of good reasons not to keep chickens with ducks – but these reasons are amplified in the winter.
Ducks are friendly, fun-loving little birds, but sadly, they can wreak havoc on a chicken coop during the warmest months. As you likely know if you already have ducks, these birds need water to dip their bills into while eating and to use to clean their eyes.
Because of this, you’ll need an open source of water (year-round) for your ducks. The ducks will splash around in the water and make it hard for your coop to stay dry. The bedding, nest boxes, everything! – will likely become saturated and dirty in a hurry.
This can make your chickens extremely sick or make them more prone to cold- and moisture-related issues in the winter, such as frostbite. Therefore, you will want to consider keeping your ducks in separate living quarters throughout the year at best, but at the very least, during the colder winter months.
Now, there is one caveat to this. You can let your chickens hang out with your ducks outside. Since ducks will play in the water all day, a deep tub set in the sun where the ducks can reach it will all about ensure that the water won’t freeze up – except perhaps on the super cold days.
Prepare for Winter!
When winter rolls around, it’s not just humans who need to be prepared for the cold. Chickens also need a place to stay warm and dry during the chilly months. Of course, they also need plenty of water.
Contrary to popular belief, chickens need just as much water during the winter as they do during the rest of the year. Dehydration might not be as common in the winter as it is during the summer, but it’s still a very real threat!
Got any other tips to share? I’d love to know how you keep your chickens, or any other animals for that matter, watered through the freezing winter!
updated 04/15/2021 by Rebekah Pierce
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.