Water is critical for chickens in the wintertime. Frozen water is dangerous because chickens can get dehydrated. Without freshwater, chickens can’t regulate their body temperature as well and are at a much higher risk of death, sickness, or of freezing to death.
But, if you live in a cold area, it can be hard to keep the water fresh. You can’t use outside hoses to fill the water or they are more likely to freeze and cause damage. And, if you live in an area similar to my climate, the water can freeze within an hour.
That’s a lot of time! And it keeps you homebound all winter long.
Luckily, I found 5 ways to keep your chickens (and other animals’) water fresh during freezing cold weather.
1. Capture The Sun’s Heat With An Old Tire
Utilize the energy of the sun to keep your water from freezing. You will need a few things such as an old tire without the wheel. You will need a black plastic or rubber tub. The rubber tubs are a little more durable than the plastic ones.
You will also need some packing bubble wrap or scrunched up newspaper and some wooden blocks.
- Fill the hollow part of the tire with packing bubbles or scrunched newspaper. You need to fill all the part that the tube normally goes in. Don’t fill the middle of the tire.
- Set your wooden blocks in the middle of the tire. They will lift up the rubber tub so that the top of the tub is flush with the top of the tire.
- Snuggly fit the rubber tub into the tire. The tub should be large enough to fit in the hollow of the tire. It shouldn’t be so large that it is held high by the tire. Neither should it be so small that there is a gap between the inner circle of the tire and the rubber tub.
- Set the water system outside where it will get maximum heat and sunlight during the day.
The black rubber of the tire will gather heat and energy from the sun. It will heat the tub and keep the water from freezing. The water won’t be warm in the winter, but it will stay just cold enough above freezing to be drinkable by your chickens.
Plus, the chickens will enjoy having a warmer area to perch on and drink on. They don’t like snow and can damage their feet by standing in the snow. They don’t always know how to get out of the snow.
This system won’t work 100% of the time, especially when temperatures drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but it will slow down the freezing process.
2. Salt Water Double Solution Keeps Waterers From Freezing
Never ever add salt to your chicken’s water. It is bad for them and can cause a lot of problems. But, you can use salt to help keep their drinking water from freezing.
Here’s how you do it:
- Grab an empty 20 oz water bottle or soda bottle.
- Heat 3 cups of water to boiling.
- Meanwhile, add a ⅓ cup of salt to the empty bottle.
- Pour the hot water in the water bottle and shake to dissolve the salt.
- Tighten the lid so the salt water won’t get out.
- Add the bottle of saltwater to your chicken waterer
This helps a LOT to keep your chickens’ water from freezing. The water will eventually freeze, but you can also try variations.
This next winter, I’m planning to try a combination of warm water, the tire and the saltwater in one container and see if I can keep it from freezing when it gets to a -20 wind chill factor.
3. Put Your Ducks To Work
Moving water can’t freeze. That’s why streams don’t freeze even in the coldest areas. Utilize your ducks and allow them into the chicken’s water.
They will splash and be in the water all day, which will keep it from freezing.
I have been hesitant to use this method because it gets really cold where I live. I am worried that a little water around the feeder will pose a danger when it freezes.
It can freeze quickly and possibly cause damage to the chicken’s feet. It can also be a cold dangerous surface for the chickens to be on when drinking.
Plus, if the ducks splash the chickens, I am worried it will make them sick.
So while many people swear by this method, I would be very cautious in extremely cold climates.
4. Use Warm Water To Delay Freezing
Heat your water a little to delay freezing. You won’t want to use very hot water as chickens don’t like to drink hot water. But, they do like warm water. It will give them a little added warmth, a lot like feeding them warmed up food when it gets really cold outside.
Plus, it will help to delay the amount of time until it freezes over.
I usually use the hottest water that my hot water heater will give me. Then I pour that into what’s left in the watering dish outside.
That cools the water down from being too hot but still provides extra warmth.
5. Use The Root Cellar Concept To Keep Water Thawed
A good root cellar doesn’t freeze. You can use that concept to build an underground chicken coop that doesn’t freeze.
You will need to find out what the frost line is in your area. In my area, the frost line is 31 inches. So a chicken coop that is more than 31 inches underground won’t freeze.
But the entire coop doesn’t have to be underground. You can dig into the ground to place the watering stations under the frost line. That will keep your chickens’ water from freezing.
There are a lot of ideas out there about how to build root cellars and some of them just involve burying coolers or trash cans. Take that idea and bury the tub of water.
I’ve been wanting to create a greenhouse that is partially underground. One idea involves using black water containers to capture the sun’s heat while also having the greenhouse half underground.
In my climate, I’m hoping that will protect it from the super cold winds that come and get it under the frost line.
Growing spring produce in this way will also allow my chickens to forage during the winter.
6. Greenhouse Play Area To Help Keep Water Thawed
I wrote about this idea in the article on how to keep chickens warm during the winter. My neighbor is constructing a simple greenhouse-like coop for her chickens. She is using railroad ties to secure the bottom of the structure.
Cattle panels are then secured and bent over the top. The will form a hoop-house frame.
Lastly, she is wrapping it in thick clear plastic.
During the winter, it will keep the snow off the ground inside the structure. It will also provide a warmer area for the chickens to scratch and get sunlight.
Notice I said warmer, not warm. We get very cold here in Idaho and it won’t be warm, but it will be significantly warmer than outside.
She is planning to leave at least one end open so her chickens can go in and out.
I’m going to try and build a smaller such structure behind my coop this summer. I love it as a place to put the water containers because the coop will still be able to stay dryer and my chickens will get better sun-time in the winter months.
7. Golf Balls To Break Up Ice Before It Forms
Another way you can help to slow the freezing of the water is to add some ping pong balls into your watering container.
The balls move around as the chickens get into it and that movement helps to keep the water from freezing.
Plus your chickens will probably peck at the golf balls, causing more movement and helping to keep the water fresh.
8. Use Running Water To Stop Freezing
This method works well in mild to moderate areas. It doesn’t work as well in extreme cold because it causes a lot of frozen mess and can damage and freeze pipes, even with running water.
Running water has a harder time freezing. It has to get extremely cold, into the negative digits, to freeze moving water. How cold it has to get depends on how much the water is moving.
But, if I have a hose running in my backyard, it wills till freeze in the coldest parts of winter and that frozen water can extend into my exterior wall and cause damage.
So, I can’t utilize running water except in the first and last months of winter when it is freezing but not as much.
You can use the same concept to keep your chickens water from freezing. You can jam nipple waterers so that they drip consistently.
One issue that I see with this system is the mess that it makes with the dripping water. You will want to put something underneath your drippers so that it catches the water.
If the water is dripping onto frozen ground, it can create a major issue for your chickens. When they walk on wet or partially frozen ground, it increases the chances of frostbite.
So make sure you have a good, sturdy, tip-resistant container that can catch the dripping water under your nipple feeders.
9. Commercial Options For The Coldest Nights
Of course, there may be times when the temperature drops so low that you must employ a backup system to keep your chickens in freshwater. Or, you may need to be out of town or gone and need a way to warm the water.
Here in Idaho, it gets that cold about 30-40 days. From mid-December to the end of January are the coldest months and even with these awesome off-grid tactics, the water will still eventually freeze over.
That’s when I have to rely on water heaters. The water heater base sits under your waterer and warms the water to keep it from freezing. It doesn’t provide warm water but will keep the temperature just enough above freezing to keep it fresh.
The submersible dicer also works to keep water from freezing.
You can find the ones I recommend on my recommendations page.
It’s not as important which method you use, as that you provide thawed water for your chickens.
By using a combination of methods, you can buy yourself time. Add warm water into the tire waterer. Keep a bottle of salt water floating in it and check it after your coldest winter nights.
I use both the off-grid and electrical water heaters to keep my chickens’ water from freezing. During the coldest winter months, we lose power for several hours to a day while the power company fixes a downed line or other problem.
I use the off-grid tactics all winter long. When it is the very coldest, or I’m headed out of town, I also employ the electrical heaters. That way I know my chickens still have fresh water. If the power goes out, the off-grid tools will keep them with freshwater long enough for the power to come back on and the heaters to warm the water.
Then, I know my chickens won’t suffer or die while I’m gone. And, that my neighbor won’t have to deal with excessive work for my animals or dead animals.
If you’ve dealt with bullying chickens as winter boredom kicks in, then keep reading. In the next article, I’m covering how to help reduce bullying among your flock.
Photo Credit: Linda Flickr