Chickens require clean drinking water, which may seem easy enough to do. But there are choices in how you deliver water to chickens and things to consider like frozen water dishes in the winter. Learn about the various options for watering chickens and what watering system might work best for your laying flock or meat birds.
How Much Water Do Hens Need?
Chickens need constant access to fresh, clean water as well as feed. You should never limit their access to water or restrict it in any way. If chickens have inconsistent access to clean water, they won't lay as well, eat as well, or grow as fast.
On average, each full-grown laying hen will drink a pint of water a day. But this can vary widely, with the amount increasing to about a quart of water in hot weather. Meat birds may require even more water than this due to their quick metabolism that helps them grow quickly.
Keep the Water Clean and Palatable
Dirty water or water that is too warm will sometimes cause chickens to stop drinking it. They also might not drink water that you've added something to, like vinegar or vitamin powders. Make sure your chicken waterer is clean - scrub it with dish soap, hot water, and then a dilute bleach solution, then rinse well with plain, clean water regularly.
Choose a Type of Waterer
There are several different kinds of chicken waterers and automatic systems that provide your birds with clean, fresh water constantly.
You can use a round waterer that's made of plastic or galvanized steel that has a trough around the bottom with a shallow lip that the chickens drink from. The vacuum pressure allows just enough water to fill the lip constantly. These waterers work well. They work best if they are elevated off the ground on a stand or hung from the rafters of the coop so that they don't get poop and shavings in them.
Open bowls can work but the hens sometimes - no, often - get wet, step in them and knock them over, and get the water filthy pretty much instantly.
You can fashion your own chicken waterer out of a 5-gallon bucket and a shallow plastic dish. Drill small holes in the side of the bucket (a jug will work too) at a level lower than the top o the lip of your plate. Attach the plate and the bucket. The bucket must be sealed at the top. It will work by vacuum pressure just like the round waterers of this style you can buy at the store.
There are also nipple systems that you can attach to the bottom of five-gallon buckets for a clean, gravity-fed system. You have to make sure nothing clogs the nipples, like minerals, and you have to train the chickens to use them. But small farmers are beginning to appreciate the cleanliness and ease of use of the nipple watering systems.
Automatic waterers come in several different types. You can use an automatic pet waterer, like a dog bowl style. These connect to a garden hose. More traditional automatic chicken watering systems, like those used on larger farms, are also available.
Keep the Water From Freezing in Winter
If you live where the temperatures regularly get below freezing, you will need to either water the hens twice a day (bring a bowl of warm water out to them or fill waterers with warm water and allow all the birds can drink until they're full) or get a heated waterer. They sell metal heated waterer bases for the round metal waterers or drop-in style heaters for a trough of water.