Like all living things, our chickens need water to survive, thrive and produce healthy eggs. Clean water keeps hens’ reproductive systems working the way they should, and some chicken keepers, especially newbies, worry about water quality or if they’re properly watering their flock. To provide some clarity, here are four water sources for your chickens and what to think about when using them.
1. Tap Water
In urban areas with municipal water systems, we don’t usually need to worry about the water quality. City water sources are considered safe for consumption, but there are certainly differences in the taste and composition from city to city. Treated water isn’t all the same, but it is almost always safe. Growing up, I drank from Lake Huron. Today, my chickens and I drink from the Ohio River. I can tell you, the difference between the two is huge; in our current location, we face more hard-water issues.
Watering your flock from the outside spigot is comparable to the tap water inside your house. Although the tap inside is probably cleaner than the spigot outside, that’s certainly nothing to worry about. Sometimes I will clean my flocks’ waterer, fill it up from the spigot, and put it back in the coop, only to find them all drinking out of a mud puddle.
2. Well Water
About 15 percent of the U.S. relies on private wells, which aren’t regulated like municipal water sources. Wells can be polluted by natural and man-made contaminants, including microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses, heavy metals, and unsafe levels of naturally occurring fluoride. Chemicals or animal-waste runoff from farms can also contaminate wells, especially if they’re shallow.
If you have well water, test it for safety. If you drink it yourself, consider it safe for your livestock, too. But, if you don’t drink your well water for reasons like heavy metal contamination, chemical pollutants or microorganisms, remember you are what you eat—and you are what your food eats, too. If you eat the eggs or meat of your chickens, don’t give them water you wouldn’t drink yourself.
3. Softened Water
Water softeners commonly use salt (sodium chloride)—the same stuff in your kitchen saltshaker—to replace the calcium and magnesium ions that make water hard. Hard water’s biggest caveat is scale buildup. It’s not unsafe to drink, but it can clog pipes, build up around faucets, and keep your soap from lathering in the shower. Water softeners installed where water enters the home can protect pipes, making the naturally hard water unavailable.
While water softeners use common table salt, the process of softening is only replacing calcium and magnesium ions with higher-charged sodium ones. Very little sodium ends up in the drinking water. Even for people on a sodium-restricted diet, the FDA says that the amount of sodium in an 8-ounce glass of water is so low that it still falls under its own definition of a very low-sodium food.
Consider that if you’re giving your chickens any kind of electrolyte products, that it contains more sodium than they will consume from softened water. Sodium is an essential electrolyte. If you’re sodium sensitive and use a water purification system that uses potassium chloride in lieu of sodium chloride, this is also safe for you and for your flock.
4. Backyard Hose
Dragging the hose to the waterer for rinsing and refills is often easier than lugging the waterer to the spigot. If you prefer the hose, consider buying one labeled safe for drinking. Most commercial hoses contain hormone disruptors, like phthalates and and bisphenol A (BPA), to keep the plastic soft. If you can’t replace your hose, let the water run for several minutes before giving any hose water to the chickens. This will rinse out many contaminants that could have leached into the water left sitting in the hose.
Do you have any concerns about your flock’s drinking water?