How to Keep Chicken Water From Freezing
If you own chickens and live in a colder climate, you’ll know that it can be hard to keep their water from freezing. How to keep chicken water from freezing?
Keeping their water drinkable and not frozen can be a real chore if you try to fill waterers up and simply put them in the coop like you would in the summer.
I’ve compiled a list of ingenius and simple ways to keep chicken water from freezing in the winter.
Keeping Chickens in the Winter
It’s important to make sure that your chickens have access to clean drinking water, even in the winter time.
Chickens cannot peck through thick ice to get to water. They need some help from you to keep their water unfrozen enough to drink.
How long can chickens go without water in cold weather?
Chickens need water in the winter as much as they do in the summer. When it’s hot, water helps to regulate the body temperature. The same thing is true in the winter, despite the change in temperatures.
In the winter, it’s a general rule of thumb to say that chickens need about 1.5 times the amount of feed they consume in water each day. So, if you hen eats one pound of feed in one day, then she needs about 1.5 pounds of water.
Hens that are laying can quickly become dehydrated enough to affect egg production.
Hens can become dehydrated enough in 24 hours without water to affect their laying cycle. If a hen becomes dehydrated, she may stop laying for several weeks after the dehydration incident.
It’s Easier with Electricity
Of course, it’s easier to keep your chicken’s water unfrozen if you have electricity available at your chicken coop. Electricity can provide heat for the water, keeping it unfrozen.
If you don’t have electricity at the coop, can you reach it with an extension cord? This may provide you with the electricity that you need to keep your chicken’s water warm.
No electricity doesn’t mean that you can’t keep the water warm, but be prepared to work a little harder to make sure that your flock has drinkable water.
It may be worth it to run electricity to the coop before it gets really cold.
Winterized Chicken Coop
It’s easier to keep your chicken’s water drinkable if you do a little work ahead of time and winterize your chicken coop. Taking care of a few basic things will help keep the temperature regulated in the coop, keeping the water temperature more consistent.
Seal up any holes or windows with plexiglass.
Keep windows closed up tight and cover any hardware mesh with plexiglass to keep the cold air out.
Clean out old bedding and put new thick bedding down.
This is the perfect time to clean out the coop. Get any old or dirty bedding out.
Lay out a thick layer of bedding on the ground.
To heat the coop or not to heat?
This is a controversial subject with chicken owners. Some swear by lighting and heating the chicken coop, others feel like it’s unnatural and a waste of electricity.
If you heat the coop, you may want to put the lights on a timer or only turn them on when the water in the coop is in danger of freezing.
It’s much easier to keep your chicken water from freezing if you have electricity. There are several ways that you can keep their water warm enough for them to drink.
1. Light bulb in cinder block
You can create a heater for the water with a light bulb, cinder block and a cap block.
A cap block is the thin concrete block that sits on top of a cinder block. If you don’t have a cap block, a concrete stepping stone could work. I wouldn’t use wood or anything that could get too hot and catch on fire.
Put the cinder block on the ground with the holes facing up.
The light bulb needs to go inside one of the holes. Turn it on. Place the cap block or stepping stone on top to cover it.
The heat from the light will heat the block gently. You can put a waterer on top of the cinder block heater or next to it so that it gets warmth from the blocks.
This should keep you water warm enough for your chickens to drink with little work from you.
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Buy what you need here to make a cinder-block heater
2. Heated bowl
If you can, get a heated bowl. This is a really simple option that requires almost no work from you.
Heated bowls are plugged in and the bowl itself heats up to keep the water from freezing.
You can get small heated bowls and large heated bowls for larger livestock.
You’ll want to check the water in the bowl each day to make sure that it’s working properly.
3. Submersible water heater
Another great option with a similar concept to the heated bowl is the submersible water heater.
You can use it with any plastic bucket that you have already. Simply fill the bucket up with water, and drop the heater down into the water.
Keep the cord out of the reach of your chickens as best as you can. You don’t want them pulling it out accidentally and dropping it onto the shavings-filled floor.
You can secure the cord to the back of the bucket against the wall with some duct tape.
4. Water heater pedestal
Water heater pedestals are really versatile and can be used with many chicken waterers.
If you use a poultry fount or a water bucket, this can heat the water inside. Simply set the fount or bucket on top of the pedestal to heat the water.
Just because you don’t have electricity doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your chicken water from freezing in the winter.
You will need to check it more often that if you had some of the electric options above, but it should last longer.
Large black rubber tub
Many waterers for chickens are white and don’t absorb much sunlight. This makes them freeze faster than a dark colored waterer or bucket.
A simple way to keep the water warm longer is to use the energy and heat from the sun. A black rubber tub is an excellent way to do that.
The black color absorbs heat from sunlight and the rubber material will hold that heat longer than a plastic or metal material would.
Ping pong balls
You can drop several ping pong balls down into water buckets to help prevent the water from freezing.
The balls will float on top of the water and move around, preventing rapid ice formation. Curious chickens will peck at them, which helps break up the new ice that is forming.
Ping pong balls also help when the ice does cover the top of the water. It won’t be as hard to break the ice up in the bucket with the ping pong balls on the top.
Create a sunroom
Have you ever been in a sunroom during the winter? They are unseasonably warm without having to pump heat into them.
You can create a similar space in your chicken coop.
Use plexiglass or clear greenhouse plastic to create an area that is enclosed that will allow sunlight to come in.
The sunlight will get into the ‘sunroom’ and will stay much warmer than the surrounding area, even at night. Move the waterers into the sunroom to keep the water from freezing.
Get what you need to make a sunroom:
Handwarmers with small mason jar waterers
This option is best if you only have a couple of chickens.
Small mason jar waterers can be kept warm in a pinch using handwarmers (the same kind that you might use when hunting).
To activate them, start rolling them around in your hands. The materials inside come into contact with one another, starting a slow chemical reaction that releases heat.
Handwarmers will release heat for about four hours. You can use them to keep the water warm during that time.
NOTE- DO NOT PUT SALT DIRECTLY INTO YOUR CHICKEN’S WATERER. SALT WATER WILL KILL YOUR CHICKENS IF THEY DRINK IT.
You can use a bottle of salt water to keep their drinking water from freezing.
Salt water has to be much colder to freeze (28° F) than fresh water (32° F).
If you’re using a large 5 gallon poultry fount, you can fill up a 2-liter bottle with salt water and drop it down into the waterer.
The same thing can be done with a bucket waterer. Simply drop the salt water bottle into the water to help keep the chicken water from freezing.
Rotate water fountains
This may seem like common sense and you may be doing this already if you don’t have electricity at your chicken coop.
Have two waterers on hand.
When one freezes, bring it inside to let it thaw out. Take the thawed waterer out and swap them.
You can get a few hours out of each waterer this way, depending on how cold the temperatures are.
Break up any ice as it forms
Your chickens can break up very thin ice to get to water, but they can’t break through thick ice.
Help prevent thick ice from forming by breaking it up every few hours. You can use a hammer to break it up when you go out there. Remove large chunks.
A double-walled waterer insulates the water inside of the waterer to help protect it from the cold.
If you fill up the waterer with warm water, the air in the double-walled waterer will warm up and help keep the water warm longer.
Insulate waterer (bag of shavings)
If you don’t have a double-walled waterer, you can create insulation for your waterer.
Grab some bags of shavings and use them to circle the waterer.
Don’t use loose shavings to do this. The chickens will get them into the water almost as soon as you set it up and will create a big mess.
The bagged shavings around the waterer will help to keep the water inside of the waterer warm and keep the cold air away from it.
Drip water system (grit in nipple waterer to drip)
A drip waterer or nipple water can freeze quickly, especially ones with metal nipples.
A frozen nipple waterer will become stuck and your chickens won’t be able to get to the water, even if it isn’t frozen.
You can put some grit inside of the nipple waterer. This will create just enough friction to prevent the ball in the nipple from dropping down completely and getting frozen there.
Using a tire to insulate
You can create your own double-walled waterer if you have an old tire handy.
Place a bucket of water in the hole of the tire and place where it will get sun. The black rubber of the tire will heat up, warming the air inside of the tire.
The warm air will warm the water and will keep the water warm longer after the sun goes down.
PVC chicken waterer
You can make a chicken waterer yourself using PVC.
If you have electricity, use a bird bath heater or another small heater inside the pipes. You can also use a 5 gallon bucket as a reservoir and put a bucket heater in it.
If you don’t have electricity, use heat tape to wrap the pipes with. Black paint would also help the pipes to absorb sunlight and warm the water.
Get what you need to make a PVC waterer:
Solar heated water bowl chickens
There are bowls out there that are solar heated.
This would be a good option if you have ample sunlight in the winter that can heat the bowl.
More Ideas for Heating Your Chicken Water in Winter
If you’re open to options and a little extra work ahead of time, then these options may work for you.
Add ducks to the flock
Adding ducks to your flock is a way to help keep your chicken water from freezing.
Ducks will get into the water and splash around, even if the temperatures are below freezing.
Their splashing and moving around in the water can help keep it from freezing or freezing as fast.
Ducks are also better at breaking up ice that forms on top of the water than chickens are.
More in depth methods without electricity
The next two options are pretty extreme and in-depth but they can work really well to keep your chicken water from freezing and can keep your chickens more comfortable in the winter.
Use heat from compost pile
An active compost pile puts of large amounts of heat. A massive compost pile can be used to create warm water for an entire house.
Tubing can be run through an active compost pile to capture the heat from the pile. The tubing can be used to run from a water source to the chicken waterer, delivering warm water to the chickens.
This is most effective when the compost pile and chicken coop are located close to one another. You can even incorporate a compost pile into the chicken run.
This is an extreme option and I’m not sure how efficient it is, but I’ve seen it mentioned several times so I thought that it should be included.
If you live in an area with extreme temperatures, it may be beneficial to put your chicken coop underground, below the frozen ground.
Of course, this takes a massive amount of work, but it could be an option if you have large chunks of time with extremely cold temperatures.
Move them into a greenhouse
If you have a large enough greenhouse, you can move your chickens into it during the winter.
The inside of the greenhouse will stay much warmer than the outside, even at night. You won’t have to worry as much about the water freezing over if they are in the greenhouse.
Check out this video about wintering chickens inside a greenhouse:
Keeping your chicken water warm enough to drink is crucial to healthy chickens in the winter.
The larger the surface area is, the longer it will take for the temperature to freeze.
Smaller waterers will freeze up much faster than larger ones.
Dark colored waterers or buckets will absorb heat from the sun, warming the water inside.
Buy dark colored waterers or buckets when you can.
This won’t help at night after the sun has gone down, but it can make a big difference during the day.
You may think that you can get more time if you start with warm or hot water.
This isn’t true!
Hot water actually freezes faster than cold water. This is due to a phenomenon called the Mpemba effect.
You’ll actually get more time before the water freezes if you use cold water to fill up the chicken waterers.
It seems counterintuitive, I know, but it’s true. It’s the same reason that people say to fill up ice cube trays with warm water because it will freeze faster.
How to keep chicken water from freezing in the winter
There are many ways that you can keep your chicken water warm during the winter.
Some of the options require electricity at the coop, some do not. Electricity at the coop will make it easier on you to keep their water drinkable, but it’s not a requirement.
Here’s what you need to keep your chicken water from freezing:
- A light and cinder block heater made with a cinder block, a cap block or concrete stepping stone and a work light
- Heated bowl
- A submersible heater in a water bucket
- A water heater pedestal to put under your waterers
- Large, black rubber tub
- Ping pong balls
- Create a sunroom using plexiglass or clear greenhouse plastic
- Handwarmers with small mason jar waterers
- Salt water in plastic bottles inside of the waterers or buckets
- Rotate waterers between a couple of waterers to always have a thawed one
- Break up any ice with a hammer and remove large chunks
- A double-walled waterer
- Bagged shavings to insulate waterers
- An old tire can be used to hold a bucket in the middle, providing extra insulation
- Use grit in a nipple waterer to help prevent the ball in the waterer from getting stuck.
- Make a PVC waterer and use heat tape or black exterior paint to warm it.
- A solar heated water bowl
- Add ducks to the flock to keep the water stirred up and thawed
- A nearby compost pile can heat water in tubing like this to provide warm water
- An underground coop may be an option for climates with prolonged, extreme cold
- Move them into a greenhouse if you have one