During the winter periods your hens don’t need as much water as they do in the summer; however it’s still vitally important that they get an adequate supply.
On average their water intake will decrease by around 3 times during winter when compared to summertime.
Depending on where you live, wintertime for your chickens can be anything from a mild discomfort to an absolute nightmare! Trudging back and forth to the hen house two or three times a day, carrying buckets of water, in heavy snow is not for the faint of heart!
In this chapter we’re going to look at why chickens need water, how much water they need, and how to supply your chickens with fresh water during the winter months.
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Why Do Chickens Need Water?
If I told you that chickens are made up of approximately 65% water, you will probably start to realize just how important water is for your girls.
“Water is involved in every aspect of poultry metabolism”.
This means that water controls their body temperature, the rate they digest food, and their body waste.
Also, in Chapter Two (How To Keep Chickens Laying Eggs During Winter) we mention just how important water is for the production of eggs. Roughly 74% of an egg is made from water. If your chickens don’t have access to a supply of fresh, clean water, then you can say goodbye to your egg supply!
Hens, like humans, are more sensitive to a lack of water than a lack of feed, and if chickens lose access to their water supply, even just for a few hours, it can put them off laying for several days, if not weeks. This also applies if you are growing your chickens for meat. Chickens without water won’t have much of an appetite so they won’t grow as big.
A restricted supply of water can also cause problems with digesting food. Chickens use the moist water to help break down and soften the grain they eat. Without this water, the grain can form small lumps in the chicken’s crop (small sack where food is kept after swallowing) and cause breathing difficulties.
All in all, chickens with access to clean, fresh water will grow healthier, bigger and lay more eggs for you!
How Much Water Do They Need?
If you’re looking for a quick rule of thumb, during the winter your chickens’ water intake will be roughly 1.5 times their feed intake. And in normal temperatures chickens drink roughly 2 times the amount of feed they eat.
The easiest way to ensure they are getting enough water is to make sure their water bowl is kept full at all times.
If you have watched chickens for a length of time, you will find that they don’t drink large quantities of water at once, they tend to drink small amounts and often, which is why they need access to water at all times.
You will find that free range chickens will drink more than battery chickens because they’re more active.
With their feed, I weigh it out and make sure they get an exact amount; whereas with their water I never ‘ration’ how much water they get. I just always make sure their water bowl is full.
If you want healthy chickens you too should also never restrict their access to fresh clean water.
3 Rules for Water Supply During Winter:
- Make sure they always have access to water
- Ensure the water is clean and no older than 24 hours
- Prevent the water from freezing
Supplying Your Chickens with Water during Winter
Your biggest issue during winter is preventing the water from freezing. And as you’ve probably experienced in previous winters, this is easier said than done!
The temperature here in upstate NY plummeted to -17F last year, so we had to pay special attention to the freezing water issue. Although your chickens’ beak is very sturdy, they will not use it to break through the ice and get their water, so it’s your job to provide water which isn’t frozen!
There are two different options you have when it comes to keeping your chicken’s water de-iced. You can either keep replacing the water each time it freezes or keep the water warm with some form of heater.
Manually Replace the Water
Let’s start with the traditional, old school way of providing your chickens with water.
This involves filling up a bucket of water and carrying it down to your chicken coop. You then fill up your chickens’ water bowl with the fresh water. Whilst this is quite idyllic during the light warm summer months, in freezing dark conditions during the winter it can be miserable!
To make matters worse, during the winter after around six hours the water has frozen and you need to break the ice out of the water bowl and fill it up with fresh water again.
Whilst this is the safest option, it clearly isn’t ideal and it’s very manually intensive. I find that during the winter months I’m replacing their water two or three times each day.
Unfortunately, your favorite waterer isn’t going to cut it in freezing temperatures. It won’t take long for that little channel of water to freeze solid, leaving your chickens waterless until your next visit.
With that being said, using rubber tubs works best for manually replacing water because the frozen water can be removed from the container much easier than hard plastic. Think of it like a flexible mold that you can bend and break the ice chunks out of. (As a side note, bashing your rubber tub may work but it can also be dangerous—think flying chunks of ice).
So, if a water heater is not an option for you in your barn, just be diligent about refilling your waterers (most likely more than once a day).
Heat Your Chickens’ Water
Instead of replacing your chickens’ water each time it freezes, you can apply a little heat to their water bowl to prevent it from freezing over.
I should place a lot of emphasis on the word little here. Chickens don’t like drinking lukewarm water, they like drinking nice cold water. So when you’re heating the water, make sure you don’t heat it up too much. The purpose of heating the water should be to prevent it from freezing.
To heat the water you can either make your own heater or buy a pre-made solution.
For those of you who aren’t DIY friendly, I would recommend buying a heated pet bowl like the one shown below.
Heated pet bowls like this will do the hard work for you!
They come with a thermostat so they only turn on when the temperature gets close to freezing, and its heating element is conveniently hidden underneath the bowl. Most of them also come with an anti-chew cord, to stop your hens pecking their way through the cable!
They are very easy to set up: all you need to do is plug it into an electric socket and you’re good to go.
Don’t be concerned if it ‘appears’ to not be working when you first plug it in! The heater will only kick in when the temperature is below freezing.
You should be able to pick a 1.5 gallon bowl up from your local farm supply store for around $30.
DIY Water Heater
For those of you who are handy with a screwdriver and are looking to save a few bucks you can easily make your own water heater.
All you need is a cinder block, stepping stone, lightbulb and a fixing bracket.
The lightbulb is held in place by fixing an aluminum bracket to the side of the cinder block. You will also need to drill a small hole through the side of the cinder block to run the electricity to the lightbulb.
When it’s turned on, the lightbulb will keep the cinder block warm. You can then place your chickens’ watering bowl on top of the block and it will stop their water from freezing.
Whilst this is a much cheaper way to stop your chickens’ water from freezing, make sure you are comfortable with wiring electrics: you don’t want any of your chickens getting hurt from an electric shock!
Whilst heating your water means you don’t have to replace it several times a day, it does come with a fire risk. I prefer to manually replace my water several times a day, but I do understand that for some people this isn’t practical and heating their water is the only way to provide their chickens with fresh, drinkable water throughout the day.
One final point: if you are going to use the manual method, switch out their metal water bowl for a thick plastic tub- this will help slow down the freezing.
Chapter Four Summary
It’s crucial for your hens’ health to supply them with fresh water. A lack of water can not only make your hen ill, it will also put them off laying for several days.
As a rough rule of thumb, during the winter your hens should be drinking roughly 1.5 times the amount of their feed intake.
As chickens only drink small amounts, often they need access to water at all times and this can be difficult during the winter when their water bowls keep freezing.
To stop the water freezing you have two choices: either keep replacing the water each time it freezes or keep the water warm with a mechanical heater.