Water

Many people don’t include information about water in their information about keeping chickens – because it is, well, just water isn’t it? Well, in fact there is much to be said about drinking water for chickens and it is absolutely essential for their well being.

Here are the main things you need to know about water:

Dirty Water

Dirty Water or Bacteria Soup?

Water needs to be fresh: if you leave it in the container for a few days at a time, it will start to go stagnant and turn green.

Now I hear you say that chickens can drink out of a muddy puddle and it does them no harm? That water is usually fresh rain water and the mud will certainly not harm them – but water kept in plastic containers that has turned green should be thought of as “bacteria soup” because it’s full of bacteria that can harm them.

Green drinking water is a sure way to be asking for trouble with diseases and should be avoided.

Changing their water daily or every-other day is easy enough and if you rinse the container out, you can use a small washing up brush around the lip and inside to remove any build-up of anything nasty.

A chicken’s body is constantly challenged by bacteria that cause diseases in their environment. Their body will build up an immunity (known as acquired immunity), however giving them large doses of “bacteria soup” will risk them becoming ill so please change water daily or at least every other day!

When you change their water, watch them rush over and take a drink – they do appreciate clean drinking water!

Carrying Chicken Water ContainersWater needs to be kept in the shade during very hot weather: Chickens can handle the cold very well, they fluff up their feathers to trap air which insulates their body, however they can’t handle the heat very well. Chickens can’t sweat, they can only pant to lose heat through the air they breathe out and drink water to cool themselves down. During very hot weather, it is best to place their (fresh!) water in a shaded position (and after reading about shelter for chickens under the ‘Getting Started’ menu, you will of course be providing them with adequate shade).

Water containers left in the sunlight can soon heat up the water inside to a high temperature which means chickens can’t lose as much heat by drinking so please, keep their water in the shade during hot weather and if you can, give them some fresh, cool water when it’s hot.

Water containers

Water containers for chickens come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit your needs. Some are galvanised and will last a very long time but the majority are plastic.

Galvanised Containers:

  • Last a life time, withstands Knocks
  • Withstands frost
  • Cannot be used to give Apple Cider Vinegar since the acid corrodes the galvanising
  • Doesn’t show you how much is left in the container.

Plastic Containers:

  • Can be used to give Apple Cider Vinegar in the water
  • Shows you how much water is left
  • Will only last a couple of years – bases crack, locking bits snap off or handles break, colours fade in the sun.
  • Will crack if you drop or knock it when full.

There is a full range of water containers for sale on this page at Amazon.

60 Comments

  1. HI.
    This article has been very interesting for me. I am about to get some chickens and I am still gaining info. Do you think the bottles that you see on Rabbit cages would work for chickens ?

    • Chickens drink by dipping their beaks into the water and then tipping their heads back. They would not be able to drink from a nipple drinker, designed for rabbits.

      There are bottle drinkers that attach to the side of the run available but they have a cup on the end so chickens can still dip their beaks in to drink.

      I would try to go for a large water container because they can drink quite a lot (to cool down) on hot days.

    • No, chickens can’t swim but they don’t go in the water. They will drink from it around the edge so as long as the water level isn’t low and the edge steep which can cause them to overstretch trying to drink from it and fall in. They should be fine if there is no risk of them falling in.

  2. Thank you for the info. This is my first year with chickens. My neighbor has had chickens for many years. When I told her I changed their water a couple of times a day to give them cool fresh water especially during this extreme heat, she acted really strange and announce she never changes their water. Glad to see something that backs up what I am doing is correct.

    • No. Chickens are roosting at night when they are locked up so do not require water. If you lock them in during the day for some reason, then you would need to supply fresh drinking water.

  3. I always add 2% apple cider vinegar to their fresh water. I’ve read that ACV should be given one week in every four. Am I causing any harm by giving it continuously?
    I also add 2 cloves of garlic to every litre of the AVC/water mix as I’ve read that garlic helps keep the hens healthy too… or am I just wasting good garlic? The hens won’t eat the whole cloves but they don’t seem to object to flavouring the water with garlic.

    • I’ve heard of others giving ACV all of the time but haven’t done this myself. I doubt it’s harmful to the birds.
      Garlic is very good for them too. If you give too much, it can cause eggs to taste of Galic but in these quantities and in water, you should be fine. I’ve never had any problems when I’ve used fresh crushed cloves into water.

    • I would go for a 3 or 4Kg feeder and at least a 2 litre drinker. Their water ideally needs changing every day / every other day.

  4. If you want to shelter your chickens’ water from the sun then I’d recommend a double-layered roof standing on four legs. The two roofs are separated by a gap of a few inches and, if you’re also building the shelter to give the chickens a place to shelter from rain, they can be of different materials: only the top one needs to be watertight. To provide the best year-round shelter the roof should slope south (or north if you’re in the southern hemisphere) towards the sun at about the same degree as your latitude, although at non-median latitudes that won’t be as good for rain as it is for the sun. The top layer of roofing absorbs a portion of non-reflected sunlight and radiates it down as infra-red towards the second layer, which in turn reflects some of it back up and only radiates a fraction down into the shelter. The roof gap draws air up from its lower end as the roof materials heat up, cooling the structure overall.

  5. Is it safe for chickens to only drink from a small pond, even in the summer? This particlular pond has a small wet wheather spring that runs into; however, during the dry season, this spring stops, and allows the pond to get stagnate; the only side of such pond is low where the small stream runs into it; thank you.

    • It’s very hard to say, and to judge the water quality. They do need fresh water to maintain health, and personally, I would always ensure there is a container of fresh water available for them but if they chose to drink from the pond, then see how it goes. If the pond water looks / smells poor quality, I would discourage it.
      It is advisable to ensure they can’t fall in to the pond too (if it has steep sides).

  6. Thanks! Very good and usefull website. I am thinking of getting chckens myself and I’m wondering… What should I do in winter if its get very cold and the water will be freezing all the time? Can chicken eat ice/snow? Do I need to constantly change the water to have it ice free?

    • Yes, you can either change it a couple of times per day or you can put the water inside their coop which may help, or you can buy a heat pad to stop it freezing.

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