With winter fast approaching, it is time to start preparing for the cold weather. A good place to start is by preparing the coop and run. One of the most significant concerns come winter is keeping your birds water source from freezing. Fresh water is just as important to chickens in the winter as it is the summer. Proper hydration helps birds regulate their temperature and stay warm.
I don’t know about you, but my absolute least favorite chore is cleaning poopy, frozen water. Hooking up the hose and running it all the way to the coops to rinse and fill waterers gets old real quick in frigid temperatures. Fortunately, there are several approaches you can take to keep your chickens water dish thaw this winter.
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BUCKET HEATER AND THERMOCUBE
This is what we use in all of our coops. We have 5 gallon buckets with poultry nipples. (These buckets are great because they keep the water perfectly clean!) Inside each bucket we place a bucket heater, which is attached to a Thermocube. The Thermocube is a thermostatically controlled switch, and turns the bucket heater on when the ambient air drops to 35 degrees, and turns off at 45 degrees. This prevents the heater from running all day, wasting electricity. We have use the bucket heater several winters, and have never had any ice or melted buckets. Plus, since the nipples are on the bucket, they do not freeze up.
Pros: Provides clean, unfrozen water despite outside temperatures. Due to buckets capacity, only needs refilled occasionally.
Cons: Requires electricity and a heater for each bucket. In very cold months, each bucket heater can cost around $20 or so a month to run (assuming it is consistently below 35 degrees and heater runs non stop for the month).
CINDERBLOCK & LIGHT HEATED BASE
Last winter, we had a Guinea that could not figure out the poultry nipples. As such, we had to keep one metal fount in the run. Due to the vacuum design of these founts, it is not possible to place a bucket heater inside. You could certainly purchase a heated base designed specifically for the founts. However we chose to make our own with a Thermocube, two patio stones, half cinderblock and small reflector light (or use a ceramic light socket). The total cost was about $25. Basically, you put a patio stone on the ground, place the half block in top. Put the light fixture inside the half block, and place other patio stone on top. (It helps to chisel a spot for the power cord with a hammer and screwdriver.) Plug the light into the Thermocube, and you’re done! We used a 40w incandescent flood light bulb and had no problems with frozen water.
Pros: Design works with standard fount, both metal and plastic. No need to deice water regularly.
Cons: Requires electricity, raises fount higher off the ground than store bought heated base, assembly required.
COOKIE TIN HEATED BASE
This design is the same concept as the cinderblock heated base. You’ll need to acquire a 10″ metal cookie tin (take a look in your cupboards, local Goodwill, garage sale or dollar store), an old lamp you can disassemble (check for one while you’re at Goodwill) or a lamp kit and, again, Thermocube.
Drill a hole (3/8″ or whatever size your lamp kit requires) and run the power cord through the hole, then place the bulb base inside the tin. Attach wires if needed and secure. A 40w bulb should be more than sufficient. Put the lid on, plug into the Thermocube, set cookie tin on a patio block, and that’s it!
Pros: Simple heated base is contained and does not cost much to operate
Cons: Requires electricity, some assembly required, metal top can be slick and small waterers could be pushed off easily, might not work as well as other heated bases.
HEATED DOG BOWL
If you only have a few birds, or don’t use standard waterers, a simple solution is a heated dog bowl.
Pros: Simple, plug and go design, inexpensive to purchase and operate.
Cons: Requires electricity and regular cleaning.
HEATED PIPE TAPE
If you use waterers such as a PVC pipe with a row of nipples, consider heated pipe tape. A bucket heater will not be able to keep the water in the pipe from freezing, but would probably be a good addition.
Pros: Should work to keep pipes from freezing, most have an internal thermostat, low cost to operate
Cons: Requires electricity
Options That Do Not Require Electricity
BLACK RUBBER TUB WITH PING PONG BALLS
Options are limited for those that do not have electricity to their coops. One option is a black rubber feed tub, with 1-2 ping pong balls floating inside, placed in the sun. The ping pong balls help break up the surface as they float around, reducing ice buildup. During the day, the tub could absorb enough heat from the sun to thaw.
Pros: No electricity required
Cons: In very cold climates or areas with little sun, ice may not melt.
BLACK RUBBER TUB & TIRE
If the black rubber tub and ping pong balls are not sufficient, consider stepping it up a notch by finding an old tire. The tire will be used to insulate the tub, and being black will also help to heat and thaw the tub in the sun. First, check to make sure your rubber tub will fit inside the tire. Next, set the tire on the ground. Place a few wood blocks, logs, etc to raise the tub high enough so the lip is level with the tire, and to create a barrier from the cold ground. Now, use a can or two of high expansion foam (like Great Stuff) to fill in the inside of the tire. While foam is curing, place the rubber tub inside the tire. Weigh the tub down with water or a block so the foam does not push it out of the tire. Once the foam is cured, remove any exposed foam so the chickens do not eat it. Fill tub with water and place in the sun. You could also add ping pong balls.
Although I have not used this myself, I have heard great things about it.
Pros: No electricity required, inexpensive to make
Cons: Needs sunlight to work best, will need cleaned and filled often
BRING WATER IN NIGHTLY
Your last option is to bring the birds water in at night after they have gone to roost, and replace it at first light. If you live in very cold climates, you may need a second water source to swap out midday, if the first one freezes up.
Pros: Water does not freeze overnight
Cons: Requires manual labor, water could freeze during the day
A Few Final Notes
If you happen to forget to bring water in or it freezes up, you can thaw it with hot water. Be careful with plastic waterers as you could crack them with the hot water. Plastic waterers are also more brittle in the cold, so be gentle with them.
Warm/hot water will freeze faster than cold water, as strange as it sounds. So filling up waterers with warm water is not advisable.
If you live in very cold climates, be sure to check your birds water several times a day. Also, even if you have a heated base or heater in your water, please be sure to check it often. If the heater fails, your birds could be out of water for several days before you’d notice.
Lastly, keep water out of the coop if possible. Humidity is not your friend, and if you use anything other than nipple waterers, you are adding humidity to the coop.
I hope these ideas have been useful to you, and you are able to find one that reduces your winter chores!
Do you have any tricks we didn’t cover for keeping water from freezing? Please leave your comments below!