The one surefire way to keep chickens water from freezing in the winter…
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As soon as the temps start to dip, the most common question I am asked is this: Amy, how do you keep chickens water from freezing in the winter? How do you keep their water open so they can drink it when the daytime high is below zero?
I can tell you the one way I’ve found to keep chickens water from freezing in the winter.
Here’s me being real with you. Ready?
The one way to for sure keep chickens water from freezing is for you to walk your lil’ self out to your chickens two or three times a day and change the water .
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
Now, that’s probably not the answer you were looking for. You’re looking for a trick to actually keep chickens water from freezing. A tip. A way you can leave them unattended all day and they’ll have a fountain of awesome to drink from when it’s -50.
Let’s talk about this, okay? I’m going to share with you some realities about water intake, some safety and cost issues with heated waterers, how I feel about the many non-electric tips floating around social media, and what exactly I do as far as water for my chickens in the winter.
Amy, listen. I need to keep my chickens water from freezing. My chickens will die of thirst if their winter water isn’t open 24-7.
Let’s state this for the record, because I know I’ll get emails from people saying I’m mean. I absolutely believe that it’s important that chickens have water. People who leave their chickens without water until they are dying of thirst are jerks and should have their chickens confiscated.
But let’s think about this, okay? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Let’s look at you and your winter water intake
Yes, we should all have water available—but that doesn’t mean we are always thirsty or even paying attention to the need. Do you walk around with a glass of water in your hand all day?
Think about it. Do you drink as much water as you’re supposed to, especially in the winter? Are you thirsty when it’s -20? I’m not asking if you should drink water when it’s -20, I’m asking if you do drink (as much water as you should) when it’s -20.
I’m trying to make a point here.You are worried about how to keep chickens water from freezing, but your chickens aren’t necessarily thirsty or even thinking about water when it’s -20.
Stop to consider this: let’s say you go out to the barn and the chickens water has frozen. The fact that there was frozen water in the bowl means your chickens didn’t want it all. I mean, honestly—the chickens were not perched there trying to gulp with their little chicken beaks as a lightning fast layer of ice blasted across the surface of their water, pushing their faces out of the bowl.
Your chickens drank some and then they went off to do wintery chicken things. They came back and the water was frozen. They went off and did wintery chicken things. They are not dying of thirst because when you go back out to the barn, you’re going to give them more water. Kind of like when you’re busy because you’re stuck in traffic and out of coffee. You’re going to be okay. Promise.
Let’s look at nature
While we worry about how to keep chickens water from freezing, let’s remember that birds in the wild do not always have water available. This I have to make sure my chickens have access to fresh, unfrozen water 24-7 is. Not. Mirrored. In. Nature.
There are many folks who have said well sure Amy, you can change their water 2-3 times a day because you’re home. a) Actually, I’m not always home and b) your chickens getting water in the morning before you leave for work and then again when you get home is seriously fine.
Because here’s the other thing. If you do have a waterer that’s heated and they are so thirsty that they drain it while you’re at work…it’s not going to get filled until you get home anyway, right?
Let’s look into the past
And honestly, folks. What do you think Ma Ingalls was doing to keep her chickens (or any other animals, for that matter) hydrated in the winter? Did Ma Ingalls know how to keep chickens water from freezing?
I bet Ma Ingalls thinks our modern day chickens are spoiled.
The thing about the safety of heated waterers
Our first heated waterer made me feel I was taking a risk every single time I filled it. It was not easy to fill and it was a pain to plug in after it was filled.
We’ve tried a few different heated methods of keeping our water open for chickens—some we bought, some we made—but I’m just not completely convinced of the safety of them in a barn that’s largely unattended during the day. Because things happen. And because, animals have a mind of their own.
A fellow homesteader recently discovered that you just never know with heated waterers when she walked out to her barn and could smell something burning. Her heated waterer had come unplugged just enough—how, she’s not sure—and it was arcing between the outlet and the plugin, just starting to catch the bedding on fire that was on the floor of the coop.
The thing about the cost of using heated waterers
But the other reason I don’t use a heated waterer? I’m cheap.
I have yet to find a heated waterer that works for us to the degree that I’m willing to pay the extra that it raises my electric bill. If the water is still skimming over with ice and leaving a little drinking hole because the chicken pecked through—which describes most heated waterers we’ve tried—Ima spend my farm dollars on something else, thank you very much.
Sidenote: When we had larger animals in our pasture, we did have a tank heater in our stock tank. Our chickens were free range at that point, so they just drank out of that when thirsty. When we got rid of all our horses and goats, it no longer made sense to keep that tank heater running.
Because yo, if you didn’t know it, tank heaters cost dollars. Not only to buy, but to use.
Anything that makes heat costs money. One of our biggest sticker shocks when we moved to the farm was not the cost of feed or hay. It was the electric bill. When I called the electric company that first winter to tell them there had to be something wrong, the lovely woman responded, “you’re on a farm, right? Are you running any milkhouse heaters, heat lamps, or tank heaters in your barn?”
That was the day I found out just how much money it costs to heat something.
All those non-electric tips people say will keep chickens water from freezing…
There are a lot of non-electric tips floating around the internet that claim to help keep water open in the winter.
Here’s my plan: I’m going to test as many as I can this winter. If people say these tips work for them, that’s great—and I do think they work for some people. In my experience, they do not work for everyone. Winter in TX is not winter in Minnesota, and a homestead on the prairie is not a homestead in suburbia.
If you have a tip you’d like me to test here in Minnesota, please send it to [email protected] I will test them all this winter and compile the results into a separate post which will be linked here.
What I actually do when it comes to giving my chickens water in the winter…
Here it is, folks. It’s not glittery or fancy.
I have m-a-n-y vessels to be changed out for water for my birds. Things I’ve found that work best are made of flexible materials which can help the ice to slide right out of. Black rubber feed pans/bowls work great, but I’ve also found that Cool Whip containers and foil pans work really well because they are super flexible—unless it’s WAY below zero.
I find it’s also helpful to have containers of different sizes and depths. Because, science. The size and depth of the water will affect how it freezes.
In the morning I give the birds a few containers of water.
Noonish (if I’m around) I go check on the birds, grab the containers (if they’re frozen) and try to flex the container to slide the ice out. If it’s too frozen to move, I bring them to the small heated room in our barn to thaw. The heated room is kept at a whopping 50 degrees, just warm enough so that the pipes that provide running water to the barn don’t freeze. If it is a really cold day, I bring the containers into the house where it’s about 64 degrees in the winter and they thaw a little faster. Then I fill a few more containers of water and give them to the birds.
Before the birds roost again (time depends on how far we are into the winter) I once again collect the frozen waters and give them new bowls of fresh water.
Repeat and repeat everyday until spring arrives. That’s my super high tech way to keep chickens water from freezing. Not Pinterest or Instagram worthy, but I think Ma Ingalls would approve.
Choosing to winter over animals isn’t supposed to be easy.
While we significantly cut down the number of our animals every fall with the butchering of our pigs, meat birds, turkeys, and some ducks, my cold weather chores take about the same amount of time as when our farm is at spring and summer capacity. Because cold, snow, and ice come with the decision to keep animals over the winter in Minnesota.
As homesteaders, it’s great to find hints and tips that can make our life easier, but we also have to be willing to accept when those hints and tips don’t work for some of us. It’s important to understand that just because something exists (ie, heated waterers) it doesn’t mean they’re absolutely necessary or that we should feel like a chicken mama failure if they won’t work for us—or we flat out choose to not use them.
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