Keeping chickens in the winter definitely has its challenges. One of the biggest challenges always seems to be how to keep chicken water from freezing. Sure, you can haul hot water out to them, but if you’ve ever done that in the snow and sleet, you know how hard that is. There’s GOT TO be a better way!
It is so very important for your chickens to have access to fresh, unfrozen water, every day. Staying hydrated is key to them staying warm, and to keep laying eggs in winter. An interrupted water supply can cause your chickens to stop laying eggs for weeks! So in addition to keeping them alive, water is important for egg production as well.
So, let’s save your aching back, and talk about how to keep your chicken water from freezing!
Use smarter waterers in the winter
I suggest using different waterers for your chickens in the winter. The plastic waterers work just great in the summer, but not so much in the winter. When these freeze, they are nearly impossible to open. You almost have to bring them inside and run really hot water on them to open them back up and to thaw the water inside.
The metal waterers can work, if you have a heated water base. Otherwise, don’t even think about it. The metal stays colder, and the water freezes faster. Then you have a real struggle to open them, too.
I personally prefer to use a black rubber tub for my chickens in the winter. The black helps draw heat from the sun, and since they’re flexible, they are super easy to dump out the ice to refill. Just make sure you keep them in the sun to absorb the sun’s rays!
Keep extra waterers inside to swap out
If you have extra chicken waterers, you may want to consider keeping some in the mudroom. When the outside waterers are frozen, you can swap them out with the ones in the mudroom. This can be pretty cost efficient and time-saving, but a little tedious.
Float ping pong balls in the water
This works best with open-topped waterers, like the black rubber tub that I mentioned before. While this won’t keep the water from freezing, it helps prolong the amount of time that the water stays thawed. Even the smallest breeze will move the ping pong balls around, which disrupts the ice from forming as quickly. Your birds drinking will also move the ping pong balls around.
Float a salt water bottle in the water
This is another way of extending the time the water stays thawed. Take a plastic 20 ounce soda bottle, and put 1/4 cup of salt in it. Fill it the rest of the way with water. Float this bottle in your chickens’ water. You can do it in an open waterer, or in the plastic or metal gravity waterers.
Salt water takes much longer to freeze, so the water in the bottle will stay thawed until it gets pretty darn cold. Like the ping pong ball idea, this bottle will be moved around by wind and by your chickens drinking. This disrupts the ice from forming for a while. Just don’t put salt in the chickens’ drinking water!
Make a “sunroom” to house the water
Another interesting option to keep chickens water from freezing is to make a “sunroom”, or cold frame of sorts to keep the waterer in. Lean a couple of windows together in an a-frame shape, and secure them together. The windows will gather heat from the sun and keep the water thawed, at least during the day.
This method doesn’t use any electricity, but probably won’t work well on very cold or overcast days. In a pinch, you could hang a heat lamp in the “sunroom” to heat it up some to keep the water thawed if you have electricity nearby.
If running power to your coop is a possibility, here are some more effective options:
Hang a heat lamp over the water
We used this method for most of last winter. We simply secured a heat lamp about 4 inches above the chicken waterer. This worked pretty well, although I’m sure it used a decent amount of power. I should note that I don’t keep water in the coop, it’s in the run only. I never suggest using heat in the coop.
This method would work even better combined with the “sunroom” discussed above. Or with a lean-to or 3-sided box of sorts around the waterer. It would hold the heat in better, and easily keep chicken water from freezing.
Use a heated dog bowl
If you have electricity in the coop, or can run an extension cord to it, a heated dog bowl is a good, inexpensive way to keep chicken water from freezing. Some of them even turn off when they aren’t needed.
Use a heated waterer base
Heated waterer bases are very effective to use with plastic or metal gravity waterers. Please not, though, that the metal ones can’t be used with the plastic waterers. Use metal bases for metal waterers, and plastic bases for plastic waterers.
Use a crock pot
This might just be one of the cheapest of the electrical options to keep chickens water from freezing. I’ve seen crock pots for as little as $10. Compare that to a $50 heated waterer! Just plug in the crock pot and keep on low. It will give a steady supply of warm water for your girls, which they will surely appreciate.
Make a cinderblock heated base
This homemade cinderblock heater seems pretty cheap and effective. We did a similar one a few years ago, but with wood. It didn’t work great. Doing one with cinderblocks would be much better. The light bulb should heat the cinderblocks enough to keep a waterer thawed in all but the lowest temperatures.
Haul out hot water
This is one that I do frequently, although it is a lot of work. No extra equipment or power is needed, so it’s great for people that don’t have electricity near their coop.
When the water bowl is already nearly full of ice, simply bring out some hot water to help melt some of the ice. Just make sure that the water isn’t too hot for the chickens after it mixes with the ice. Just to warn you, though, hauling large amounts of hot water out to the coop WILL do a number on your back!
The Hubs says I look like a decrepit old lady when I’m hauling water out to the coop. Kinda like this lady!
How do you keep chicken water from freezing?
Well, those are my 11 tips on keeping your chickens water from freezing. Do you have any to add? Please share in the comments!
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