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Five Easy Ways to Keep your Chicken Water from Freezing this Winter

Chickens need access to water year round, but keeping it from freezing can be a challenge in the winter. Learn my best tips!

One of the most-often asked questions I get from readers is how to keep their chickens' water from freezing in the winter.

Chickens - like all living things - need access to unfrozen water every day in order to stay alive and healthy, not to mention to continue laying eggs, so it's very important to keep their water from freezing.

We had horses for many years when we lived in Virginia, and carrying 5 gallon water buckets to the barn from the house because our water line froze wasn't fun.  Fortunately it wasn't cold for that long in Virginia.

And at least once we had the electric horse water buckets plugged in at each stall, we knew our horses had access to water all day long, which they definitely appreciated.

Five Easy Ways to Keep your Chicken Water from Freezing this Winter

Now that we live in Maine, our cold snaps dip lower and last longer, but I've figured out how to adapt the method we used for our horses for our chickens.

So here's my best advice to keep your chickens water from freezing this winter.

First Tip | Always Feed and Water Outside

First of all, I want to start with a simple tip. 

It might surprise you don't leave any feed or water in the coop. Ever. My chickens and ducks eat outside every day, year round.  It's just easier and keeps my coop WAY cleaner. It's also more healthy for my girls. 

Chickens don't drink at night

Once chickens go to roost, they stay up there until morning.  They don't budge. Chickens can't see well in the dark - so that means once they hop up on the roosting bar, they settle in for the night. They aren't eating or drinking in the dark. 

Ducks drink at night but make a mess

Our ducks however are a bit more nocturnal, but leaving water for ducks overnight in their house or coop is a really bad idea. They'll have the water splashed out of the bowl and all over the coop litter in no time.

That not only means the bedding will be all wet and in danger of freezing in the cold water and the bedding molding in the warm weather. It also means that if the ducks eat their feed and don't have any water to wash it down, they can choke. 

So, it's just a bad idea to leave feed and water inside the coop for your chickens ducks. 

Bottom line, chickens and ducks don't need feed and water overnight once they're adults and outside in the coop. 

Baby Chicks and Ducklings do Get Water 24/7

Of course my baby chicks and ducklings get feed and water 24/7 in their brooder box.  Because they're still babies. They aren't really on a schedule yet, and there is a light on day and night so their sleeping time isn't always overnight and they tend to eat throughout the day and night. 

But once they go outside to live in the chicken coop, they only get fed during daylight hours. Outside.

Bottom line, feed and water inside the coop attracts bugs and rodents, increases moisture levels inside the coop, and just plain makes a mess. 

Therefore, I always leave my chickens' feed and water outside in the run (in the sun in the winter, in the shade in summer).

So that means I only have to keep the water temperatures above freezing during day - which makes things a lot easier. 

Easy Ways to Keep your Chicken Water from Freezing

So here are my five simple, inexpensive suggestions to keep my chicken water from freezing through the winter months - and I even have three suggestions that work without the use of electricity.

Keep your Water from Freezing If You Don't Have Electricity

1. Large Black Rubber Tub

The first and easiest way to keep water unfrozen longer is to switch from a traditional metal waterer to a wide, deep black rubber tub set in the sun. 

Galvanized metal waterers freeze up really fast because the metal gets cold and there's so little surface area in that thin circle running around the base of the waterer. Conversely the black rubber tub absorbs the heat from the sun to keep the water warmer. 

Even more importantly, the larger surface area will help keep the water from freezing as fast.

To keep your water unfrozen even longer, check out this easy hack using an old car tire and your rubber tub! 

2. Ping Pong Balls

Float a few ping pong balls in your water tub. The slightest breeze will create waves in the water and keep a solid layer of ice from forming for a lot longer. Just be sure the water is set somewhere it gets a bit of wind blowing across it.  

Give it a try - this is probably the easiest way to keep your water from freezing and works really well in climates where the temperatures hover right around freezing. When we lived in Virginia, this was pretty much what I used to keep our chicken water from freezing in the winter, on all but a few really cold days.

Of course if you live where the temperatures dip below zero, a couple of ping pong balls aren't going to do much good.

3. Make a "Sunroom"

To make the black rubber tub even more efficient, rig up a "solar sunroom" like this one with a set of old paned windows and let the sun help to keep the water from freezing. 

The sun's rays shining through the glass of the winter really will help to keep  the water from freezing. Plus the wind block keeps the water unfrozen longer.

And your chickens will also love lounging in the warm sunny area out of the wind! 

Keep Water from Freezing If You Do Have Electricity

If you DO have electricity to your coop and run area, you have a few more options to keep your chicken water from freezing this winter.

Heated waterer bases are available commercially, but they are expensive and don't seem to last more than one or two seasons.

There are also plastic waterers that can be plugged in to keep water from freezing, but again, they are expensive and once or twice trying to fill them and getting drenched when you flip it over is enough for me!

Instead why not try....

4. Light bulb in a Cinder Block

This idea is brilliant. I found it HERE. You clamp a light bulb inside a cinder block set on a stepping stone or cement slab and cover it with another stepping stone. Your waterer sets on top of it.

The rough surface prevents slipping and this couldn't be easier or safer in your run in the winter.

I wouldn't recommend rigging this up inside your coop because of the fire hazard with all the wood, shavings, other bedding, chicken feathers, etc. but outside in the run on hard, frozen ground - yes! I say give it a try.

5. Heated Electric Dog Water Bowl

But the best, less expensive (and safest) way to keep your chicken water from freezing this winter is to just plug in an electric dog water bowl. This is how I keep my flock's water from freezing all winter long.

I have been using this heated water bowl for more than five years and it's still going strong. It's durable, safe and easy to clean and refill.

These heated dog water bowls are definitely my preferred method for providing fresh unfrozen water to my chickens all day long in the winter.

Run an Extension Cord if You Don't Have Your Coop Wired

If you have electricity in your coop, it's even easier, but I don't have electricity in my chicken coop and still use one pretty easily.

It's simple enough to plug in a heavy-duty outdoor extension cord at the house and run it to my chicken run. I got a white one so it blends into the snow and you can't even see it for most of the winter! 

I also bought a three-way splitter so I could plug in up to three bowls. I usually use two bowls for water, but had the option to use a third one for some warm oatmeal on cold mornings or some fermented feed, which would freeze otherwise if I just served it in a regular dish.

Keeping Duck and Goose Water from Freezing

Now since we have both ducks and geese who appreciate a deeper water source, I also have small heated water buckets for the geese that I plug in right outside the run since our geese wander around all day. This 9 quart bucket is the perfect size for the geese to dunk their heads into.

I just dump the bowls and pail out each evening when I lock up the coop and unplug the cord when I get back to the house, so there's no chance of fire starting overnight.

Our temperatures have gotten down to the single digits during the day here in Maine and the bowls haven't frozen yet.

I also have a bonus suggestion for you...  

If You Don't Already Have Them, Get Some Ducks 

Since ducks will dabble and play in the water pretty much all day, a nice deep tub set outside in the sun where the ducks can get at it will almost ensure the water won't freeze except on the coldest of days.

Of course it will be full of feed and debris within minutes, but at least it won't be frozen! And the chickens don't seem to mind.

Busting Some Myths about Keeping Water from Freezing

One last thing. Every winter these same myths float around the internet and I'm sad to say that these don't actually work to keep your chicken water from freezing.

So save your time and skip the salt water... but of course adding apple cider vinegar to your chickens' water provides such wonderful health benefitsso keep doing that... just don't expect it to keep your water from freezing! 

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