Chicken Watering: A Comprehensive Guide

Chicken watering can be a cause of serious diseases if not done properly. There are proper ways and materials to be used when giving drinking water to your chickens so continue reading.

Like all animals, chickens need clean water. Although this seems easy enough – filling a container, placing it in the chicken coop, providing them with 24-hour access – environmental factors and the best mode of delivery must be taken into account.

Is a galvanized sprue the best, or will a sturdy plastic one work just fine? And then there are additives, like vitamins and supplements, that can stain or rust your shower head.

So before you start working on raising chickens in the backyard, learn the water requirements for both laying hens and meat birds. Then go over a few tips and make sure you buy the gear that meets your needs.

chicken watering
Click to buy this chicken waterer

How much water does a chicken coop need?

Chickens need constant access to fresh, clean water and food. On average, an adult laying hen will drink a pint of water daily. But this varies greatly, due to the size of the hen, the season, and the outside temperature (some layers can drink a quart a day in hot weather).

Carnivorous birds require even more water than laying hens, as their breeds have a fast metabolism that helps them grow quickly. Never limit a bird’s access to water or restrict it in any way. If chickens have inconsistent access to clean water, they won’t lay as well, they won’t eat as much, they won’t grow as fast, they won’t look as healthy.

Keep the water clean and appetizing

Nobody likes to drink dirty water, including chickens. Water that contains pine shavings, dirt, or poop can cause chickens to stop drinking.

Chickens also prefer freshwater, so their waterer needs to be restocked more in the summer months than in the winter months. Sometimes, they may run into a protest problem when they add a supplement, such as vinegar or a vitamin powder, to their water.

While apple cider vinegar helps support your flock’s digestion and vitamins help support egg production, add just a small amount at first and then spy on your flock to make sure everyone is drinking at regular intervals.

You may also notice algae, or even rust buildup, on your waterer. To avoid water contamination, clean your container monthly with a brush, hot water, and dish soap. A dilute bleach solution, with a good rinse, will keep bacteria at bay.

Galvanized chicken watering cans

There are several different containers and automatic systems used to bring water to chickens. The favorite (and the closest to Martha Stewart-eske) is a galvanized double-walled birdbath. This steel waterer has a channel around the bottom with a shallow lip that chickens drink from.

The vacuum pressure allows sufficient water to constantly fill the lip, preventing waste and minimizing evaporation. This type of waterer works best when raised off the ground on a stand or hung from the rafters of the chicken coop, reducing the amount of poop and shavings in the water. However, a galvanized waterer is not the best option if you plan to supplement with vinegar. The vinegar will react with the galvanized metal, causing it to rust.

Plastic chicken watering cans

Similar to a traditional galvanized sprue, a round plastic sprue works just as well (although some prefer metal for aesthetics). The plastic waterers also work with a vacuum system, allowing for fair water levels, and can be easily filled by unscrewing the cap.

Plastic waterers work well for those who like to add supplements to their chicken water. Vinegar does not react with plastic and, for the most part, vitamins do not stain it. In addition, plastic is less sensitive to temperature variations and keeps the cold water cooler in hot temperatures, and provides better insulation in the cold.

DIY chicken drinkers

You can even make your own chicken waterer from a 5-gallon bucket placed on top of a shallow plastic dish. For this variation, drill small holes in the side of the hub at a lower level than the top of the lip of the platter.

Place the bucket on the plate and then fill it with water. Then put the lid on the bucket. This DIY version works by vacuum pressure, just like the galvanized and plastic sprinklers, but it costs a fraction of the price to manufacture.

You can also place specialty nipples in the bottom of a five-gallon hanging bucket for a clean gravity-fed system. The advantage of this variation is the constant supply of clean, fresh water. However, you will need to train your birds to use the nipples and you will need to regularly inspect and clean them to see if they are clogged, especially if you have mineral-rich well water.

Prevent a winter freeze

If you live in a region that experiences freezing temperatures in winter, there are a few options to consider.

First, and if you have time, you can refresh your hens’ water twice a day by filling their waterers with warm water and allowing all the birds to drink until full or until the water freezes again. Or, you can hang a red heat lamp (which also keeps your flock warm on winter nights) directly over a galvanized metal container.

Heat is conducted over the metal, allowing the sprue to maintain a constant temperature. Lastly, you can purchase a metal or plastic sprue with a heating base that connects to an extension cord. But despite the best efforts, the extremely cold nights will continue to freeze the chicken water.

When this happens, just take your plant’s watering can, fill it with boiling water, and pour it over the chicken sprinkler to defrost the ice.

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