PHOTO: Robyn Anderson/Flickr
January 18, 2016

Access to fresh, clean water is one of the most important aspects of keeping chickens, and now that winter is upon us, it’s important to make sure that the water you provide for your birds is available when they need it.

If you’re anything like me, I barely want to climb out of my snug, warm bed on a winter morning, so the thought of trudging through the snow and ice to deal with a frozen-over watering system is not my idea of a good morning. With that in mind, I’ve put together a few tricks that will help you winterize your chicken waterer and keep the water thawed and flowing smoothly through the coldest months. With just a little effort, you can winterize your watering system so you can feel good about catching a few extra snuggly moments in bed, while your chickens are happy and healthy outside.

1. Embrace Solar Power

Put water in a black, plastic tub placed in a sunny spot.
Tracey Hagan

I live in a temperate climate, with temperatures in the freezing range only occurring two weeks per year on average. In this relatively mild winter climate, simple, non-electric methods that harness the natural sunlight will help keep the water flowing. For instance, if you’re able to modify the placement of your coop, position it for maximum sun exposure and minimum exposure to cold, freezing winds. Once you change the placement of your coop, you can position the waterer in the best area to harness the sun’s warmth.

It’s important to note that the chickens will not need access to their water during the night when they’re snug on their perches in the coop. Simply bringing the waterer inside for the night will completely eliminate the problem of overnight freezing. The waterer should be made available first thing in the morning and placed in the sunniest spot to ensure that it does not freeze during the day. If you normally use a metal waterer, consider changing to a plastic one, as metal naturally gets much colder and is more susceptible to freezing.

Another non-electric method for a winter watering system in a milder climate is to simply fill a deep, black tub with water and place it in a sunny spot. The black tub will absorb the heat from the sun and will keep it from freezing.

2. Keep The Water Moving

Keep in mind that moving water is less susceptible to freezing. A small, submersible circulating pump is an inexpensive trick that will keep the water moving through freezing temperatures. A few ping pong balls or even a floating plastic lily pad will create ripples on the surface of the water and keep it from freezing over; however, if your climate experiences long, hard freezes, you may need to consider electric options.

3. Electric Waterers

You can put an electric waterer in the coop.
If your coop has access to electricity, there are many commercially available options designed to keep your chicken’s water from freezing during the winter. Heated electric chicken fountains, ranging in cost from $20 to $50, are a great option, especially if you prefer a simple, non-DIY solution.
Electric birdbath waterers can also heat chicken waterers.
A submersible birdbath warmer plugged into a ground fault interrupter (“GFI”) outlet can be placed inside the reservoir of a non-electric bell waterer or inside of a basin of water and will keep the water warm on nights when the temperature drops below freezing.
A heated pet bowl is an option to keep your chicken's water from freezing.
A heated pet dish is also a great option within this price range.

4. Make Your Own Waterer

Although commercial heated bases are available for use with metal chicken fountains, they’re often slippery and can cause the fountain to tip over and spill. For minimal cost and just a little bit of elbow grease, you can build a much sturdier heater from a cinder block.

Attach a light bulb to the inside of the cinderblock by threading the lightbulb housing through a hole drilled inside of the block or by attaching it to a piece of plywood mounted underneath the cinderblock. As seen in this example, place a stepping stone on top of the cinder block to create a level surface for your chicken waterer to sit on. The light bulb will emit enough heat to warm the cinder block, keeping the water fluid. The rough texture of the cinder block has the added benefit of keeping the waterer from sliding off of the base.

Your own chicken heated waterer can be made with a cinderblock and a lightbulb.

If you already use a pipe and nipple style chicken waterer, winterize it by wrapping it first with heat tape, followed by a layer of foam insulation. Here’s an excellent example.

A pipe and nipple style waterer can also prevent water from freezing in the coop.
Home On The Roost
A pipe and nipple style waterer can also prevent water from freezing in the coop.
Home On The Roost

No matter what method you choose and regardless of the season, providing plenty of clean, fresh water for your chickens to drink is the most important consideration for keeping a healthy and happy flock.

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  • Keep your coop secure all night and open only during daylight.

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