Challenge: Keep Your Chickens Water From Freezing
I find that the biggest challenge to raising poultry in the winter is trying to keep your chickens water from freezing. Living in Maine, it has become even more challenging since the temperature often dips below zero and often stays below freezing for days on end. So, I am really happy to find that a trick that I used back in Virginia – which is a far more temperate climate – also works here in Maine. We’ve had temperatures down to -10 degrees overnight and daytime highs only in the teens, yet I’ve not had to worry about frozen water.
Heated Water Bases/Bowls
If you have electricity to your coop, the easiest way to keep your chickens water from freezing is to use a heated waterer base or a heated dog water bowl. I prefer the dog water bowls since we have ducks and they need the deeper water source. I also find that the heated bases are not only expensive, they only work down to a certain temperature and then the water freezes anyway because it’s so shallow and has such a small surface area.
You can also rig up a regular light bulb over your waterer to provide just enough heat to keep your chickens water from freezing. But light bulbs easily shatter if they get splattered with water drops and can lead to coop fires and injuries, so that’s not my secret. And since we don’t have electricity to our coop, and I’m not excited about running an extension cord from the house, anything needing electricity isn’t going to be my first choice. So what IS my secret?
No Electricity, No Problem
My secret for no frozen water is simple. You just need a large black rubber tub and some ping pong balls. Seriously. (Optional items are apple cider vinegar and a few ducks.)
How to Keep your Chickens Water from Freezing
So here’s what you do: Set the black rubber tub in the sun. Fill it with water. Toss in a few ping pong balls. That’s it. The black rubber will absorb the warmth from the sun’s rays and stay a bit warmer than a metal waterer. The slightest bit of a ripple of breeze will set the ping pong balls bobbing, preventing the water from freezing solid.
Adding a few capfuls of apple cider vinegar is optional. It has great health benefits for your chickens and can help strengthen their respiratory and immune systems. It also will raise the freezing temperature of water. Just by a few degrees, but sometimes a few degrees is all you need. Apple cider vinegar freezes at 28 degrees, not 32 degrees like water does. For what it’s worth, it might make a bit of a difference if you add enough to the water, and at the very least it makes a nice health boost.
Add Some Ducks!
A far better option is to get a few ducks. Our ducks seem impervious to the cold. Unless it’s extremely windy (and in that case the ping pong balls will do their trick), the ducks’ playing in the water nearly all day long keeps it from freezing over completely. Of course the ducks make a huge water mess, but at least the chickens have water to drink that’s not frozen solid.
Ducks overall are a great choice for the northern climates, since they are extremely cold-hardy. Far more so than chickens in my experience. My ducks would rather sleep outdoors year round, until the temperature goes below about fifteen degrees, then they seek shelter inside the coop. But given the choice, they would rather sleep in their night pen under the stars in all kinds of weather than inside their house.
So there you have it, an inexpensive, easy way to keep your chickens water from freezing. Once temperatures hit the single digits for days on end, I’ll likely be running that extension cord from the house and plug in a heated dog water bowl, but as long as the temperatures are hovering between the high teens and 30 degrees and the sun is shining, the ping pong ball trick seems to be doing the trick.