Make Sure Your Chickens Always Have Plenty Of Water

How important is fresh water to chickens? Very, in fact, as hydration is key to egg production, healthy body functions and even poultry life itself.

by Ana Hotaling
PHOTO: vizland/AdobeStock

How long can chickens last without water? Not very long at all, it turns out.  

One of the most redundant yet most vital daily chores we deal with as chicken keepers is ensuring that our birds have plenty of water to last them through the day. If we’re fortunate, we have a nearby spigot or garden hose we can use to fill up the fonts each morning.

If we’re not so lucky, well, we build up some muscle hauling water out to our coops. The amount our chickens drink varies from day to day. Some days, it seems as though they’ve barely drank at all. Other days, the waterer is so empty we can pick it up with a pinky. 

Whether the Weather….

Weather conditions definitely factor into our flocks’ thirst. On hot summer days, birds drink more water to try to keep their bodies cool and hydrated. On brisk autumn days, they’ll drink less.

Regardless of the temperature and time of year, we must ensure our chickens have water to drink.  

Sometimes, however, situations occur that are out of our control. Scorching heat on a blistering summer day may have caused the water to be consumed faster than normal. Similarly, frigid Arctic temps may have caused the water to freeze completely solid.

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A lively pecking-order squabble may have resulted in a font being knocked over, the water within spilled and soaked up by the ground. A neighbor or friend watching your flocks for you while we’re out of town may have forgotten to refill the waterers regularly … or a child on chicken duty fed the birds but forgot to water them.  

Read more:Hot days are stressful for chickens, so here’s how to help when the heat goes up.

What’s the Big Deal?

Whatever the cause may be, our chickens found themselves without a source of water. Is this catastrophic? The truth is that it can be. 

Lack of a regular source of water can drastically reduce egg production in laying hens. A chicken egg consists of approximately 75 percent water. Without a regular water source, hens will begin to dehydrate. To conserve their bodies’ water level, egg production decreases.

If layers go without sufficient water for three or more days, their egg-laying abilities may be permanently affected. 

Water deprivation can also trigger molting, causing chickens to prematurely lose their feathers and turn all their energies to creating new plumage. In a dehydrated, molted state, birds become susceptible to illness, and they may take months to regrow their feathers and recover from this weakened state.  

But these conditions more commonly occur when there is an insufficient or irregular water source. What if there is no water at all? 

“In milder temperatures, a chicken can survive maybe two days,” states Zachary Williams, PhD, a poultry scientist with Michigan State University. “In hotter temperatures, only a few hours.” 

Read more: Cool off your coop when the temps rise.

Take Precautions

A day at the beach or on the water might provide us with relief from sweltering temperatures, but it might also cost us our flocks if they run out of water while we are away. To keep your birds safe from water deprivation, dehydration and death, consider the following precautions: 

  • Provide your flock with more than one waterer on days where temperatures top 85 degrees. 
  • Provide your flock with more than one waterer if you are going on a day trip. 
  • Walk your friend and neighbor through the morning feeding and watering routine before you leave on your trip. Show them how to open, rinse and fill a font. Then have them do it in front of you.  
  • Accompany your child on their chicken chores the first few times to ensure nothing is missed, skipped or forgotten. 
  • If your coops have electricity, use base heaters under metal waterers (never plastic!) to prevent the water from freezing. 
  • Keep extra waterers in your garage. During winter months, swap out the frozen waterers with fresh ones.  
  • Do periodic checks on hot days and sub-freezing days to make sure your flock has plenty of drinking water.  

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