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What Is The Best Way To Water Chickens?

Something that has always bothered me is the abundance of DIY chicken watering gadgets. As a being who understand the need for fluids, I ask myself, ‘do I really want to cut corners on this?’ 1 gallon plastic waterers can be purchased for less than ten dollars. Do I really want to skimp on something that is so vital for the birds survival?

If you are like me and are resolved to care for your flock as economically and responsibly as you can, then there are two main ways to water your chicken: the pooled and the nipple method.

Now understand there is a huge variety of waterers on the market. But ultimately, they will fit in either one of these two categories. Which one works best for your flock, is largely a matter of perspective.

The Pooled Waterer: Plastic

When it comes to backyard chickens, the Pooled Waterer is probably the most common. This is any waterer that holds the fluid in a pooled fashion – think bowl or cup.

One of my personal favorites for adult chickens numbering less than a dozen, is the 1 gallon waterer. This usually has a red base, something the birds will learn to associate with food or water at a very early age, and is made of plastic. It’s fairly simple to fill/clean and can be purchased at a fairly affordable price; I’ve seen cheep ones for less than $5.

While the 1 gallon waterer is great for adults, the trough where the water is pooled, could be problematic for day old chicks. Baby chicks must absolutely stay dry and if for some reason a chick fell into the trough, it could possibly drown. Because of this, I recommend the much smaller quart sized waterer – again with the red trough.

If, however, you are a hobby farmer that likes to raise birds in large numbers, then clearly 1 gallon at a time isn’t going to work. A 5 gallon waterer would be a better option for your flock.

The Pooled Waterer: Metal

While plastic waterers are economical, they are not as robust their metal counter parts. If you are the kind of person that has a habit of going too fast or maybe being a little too rough on things, then a metal waterer might be worth your time. A metal waterer will dent where the plastic waterer (generally the trough) will crack.

One thing to note about metal waterers is that they generally don’t have red on them. And if you have trained your chicks to identify red with water, then take time to visually ensure that the birds know where to get a drink. Once they ‘get it’ you should be fine. But don’t assume anything.

The Pooled Waterer: Hanging Vs. Static

Chickens poo on everything. This is why your waterer must be up off the ground. Because if it’s flush on the ground, then there is a good chance one of birds is going to defecate in it. And that will not be good for any of the other birds that might want to take a drink.

There are two ways the pooled waterer can accomplish this. The first by hanging the other by sitting on top of something.

Hanging Waterer:

What’s great about the hanging waterer is that it can’t be knocked over. It can spill – especially when some large uninvited guest decides to try and take a drink – but generally spills are minimal. This means that you don’t have to worry so much about something unusual happening where the birds are left without water.

The downside to the hanging water is that you have to fill them inverted and then flip them over to use. I have yet to be able to flip one over without a little water spilling out. This isn’t so much a problem when the waterer is outdoors. But if you are filling one for the brooder, then you must take care to flip it over before you place it inside the brooder, as the bedding will soak up the water. And wet feet are not good for chicks.

Also, it can be kind of tough to get the height of the trough in just the right place as the support for you hanging waterer is generally a fixed structure.

Static Waterer:

The static waterer is also a good option, especially when it holds more than 1 gallon. These bigger waterers generally fill from the top, which is great. I can’t imagine trying to flip something as heavy as 5 gallons of water.

It’s also a lot easier to adjust the height of the trough on a static waterer as this involves simply adding an extra block if it is too low.

What can be frustrating, though, for the static waterer is that chickens like to perch on things. And if they’re perched on top of the waterer, then that means their butts are right in line with the trough and you’re back to having poo in the water.

The Nipple Waterer

The nipple waterer is most certainly the method of choice for large scale operations as it greatly reduces the risk of spilling.

How does it work? In theory, the nipple hangs below a water supply and will not release water until the chicken pecks at it. Then, the more the chicken pecks, the more water they get.

There are some variations of the nipple itself. Some hang vertical while others horizontal – the thought being that a chicken would have to turn it’s head upright to drink out of the vertical nipple (think baby cow) where the horizontal orientation would allow the bird to drink without craning its neck.

Some drawbacks to the nipple waterer are the placement – or the height – of the nipple is generally fixed higher. This isn’t a problem if all of your birds are the same height. But if your flock is made up of birds that are different in height (for example one small Bantam and one Jersey Giant), then some of them could be hunched over when trying to drink, while others standing on their tip-toes.

The mechanics of the nipple can also be an issue. General wear and tear, along with corrosion, can prevent the nipple from working correctly. And obviously, you don’t want your birds getting dehydrated.

And lastly, cleaning the nipple waterer is considerably more labor intensive than taking a paper towel and wiping out a trough.

How Much Water Does A Chicken Drink?

Someone, somewhere will probably tell you something along the lines of half a liter per bird, per day. PLEASE don’t listen to that! It may be accurate for some birds and at some times of the year, but please, PLEASE don’t ration your birds drinking water.

When it comes to watering your chickens, the best method for providing for your flock is to simply never let their water go empty: provide them more than what you think they need.

For a small flock of a dozen birds or less, I’ll fill a 1 gallon waterer every day – even if it’s only half empty. This does two things. First, I’ve guaranteed that they’ve got enough water for the day. And second, I know the water is clean and fresh.

When it comes to waterers, things can get dirty pretty quick. And a waterer that is in sunlight (especially the water that is made of partially transparent plastic) is a great place for bacteria to grow. Your birds can get sick if their water starts growing bacteria. For this reason, some hobby farmers will put small amounts of apple vinegar in their waterers, as vinegar is a disinfectant.

Personally, I do put some vinegar in the water, but only during the hottest parts of the summer, as simply wiping out the trough and adding fresh water every day doesn’t always stop the scum from showing up.

Can A Chicken Drink Warm Water?

A chicken can drink warm water, just like you and I can. Do I prefer to drink warm water… NO!

I’m not sure this logic applies to my flock, but for sake of argument, let’s compare a waterer to a creek.

My biggest waterer is 5 gallons. The creek behind my house never stops running. How many gallons of water passes through that on a day, a week or a year? There’s a lot of volume with a running creek. My 5 gallon waterer is just that…5 gallons. And it gets less as the day goes by. So which one of these is least affected by the days’ heat?

That’s not to say a chicken won’t drink from a puddle. But the water that’s in a puddle is usually fresh and disappears quickly – hence, probably cooler than what is in a waterer that’s been sitting in the sun all day.

As mentioned above, I change the water daily – first thing in the morning so they can stock up when I let them out. Also, the waterer is hanging in the shade, which I’m sure helps keep the temperature down. That being said, I still give them chilled treats like refrigerated grapes on the really hot days.

Can A Chicken Go Overnight Without Water?

Unless there is some sort of serious illness, a chicken will have no problem going the night without water.

Ask any hobby farmer with chickens and they’ll tell you, chickens have a definite routine. And part of that routine is getting that last little snack of food and drink just before they go into the coop for the night. So they’re full up when they go to bed.

Also, chickens don’t see well in the dark. Consequently, when they bed down for the night, they generally don’t move again until the sun starts to lighten things up. So any water that you put in the coop, for your flock to drink in the middle of the night, is most likely going to go unused.