The Thirsty Chicken

by A.C Jacobs

I hope everyone enjoyed fall. All 3 days of it. Now that winter is here in spirit, the need for continuously thawed water has begun. Keeping chickens hydrated can be a real issue, especially when moving around means sacrificing your voluminous pouf of heat-retaining feathers to get a sip of water. Fear not!

Heating Your Chicken Water


1. Heated Drinker Base/Deicer – If you don’t want to purchase a whole new waterer for winter, making a heated base is probably your cheapest option. There are many tutorials on making a cookie tin heater online which you can make for less than $15. If you are not into the DIY, heated drinker bases run about $40 new.

2. Heated Poultry Fountains – These look just like regular waterers, but they have a heating element and plug in to keep the water from freezing. They range anywhere from $30-$100, depending on the manufacturer. In my experience, the heating elements are all about the same, so if you already have one of these and love it, keep on loving it. If you’re on the fence about getting one, I prefer the heated base because I don’t have to unplug anything to take the dirty drinker inside to wash. The base stays safely outside and there is no cord to navigate in the sink.

3. Heated Water Bowl – The heated water bowl has so many pros and cons. I like having a heated bowl as a backup, but don’t like them for daily use. Roosters, and hens with larger wattles will dip those wattles in the water to drink. When it’s below freezing, that moisture clinging to the wattles can create instant frostbite. The heated bowls are great for warmer winter days, but they are not my #1. Use with caution and make sure they contain water at all times to prevent overheating. A medium-sized bowl can be purchased for around $25.



Ways to Encourage Drinking

1. Keep it thawed!

2. Keep it fresh. Scrubbing out your chicken waterer with a cap full of mouthwash, then rinsing clean can help keep it cleaner longer.

3. Keep it handy. The first cold snap is not the time to change the location of your waterer. Leave it in the same place, or add a second waterer to another location for a week or two, then remove the first waterer if you intend to move it permanently.

4. Be smarter than the chickens! If the decreasing daylight has your birds drinking less, try appealing to their voracious appetites. Bits of brightly colored fruit in the water basin where they drink invites them in. Cranberries are a great choice this time of year because they are inexpensive and plentiful. Bonus: They float!

5. Be diligent. Chickens will naturally drink sporadically in winter. They will sometimes go a few days with minimal drinking during a cold snap, but as soon as the temperatures climb back into the 30s they will suddenly drain their water. I like to add a couple drops of food coloring to my chicken water so I can always tell how much water is left.


Most importantly, make sure your birds always have access to fresh water. If you feed dry pellets or crumbles, this is especially important. Water is key for chicken digestion, and without it, they can succumb relatively quickly. Go forth, and water!