If you live in a northern climate, one of the most challenging parts of raising poultry is keeping their water from freezing in the winter.
Here in New England, we have weeks on end where we might not get above freezing, and can often dip below 0. Chickens & ducks need fresh, liquid water every day to stay healthy. Ducks especially need water to digest their food properly and to keep their sinuses clear.
If you have electricity in your coop & run this job will get much easier! We don’t have permanent electric lines run to our coop, but it’s close enough to our house that we can run a really long extension cord out there. We had an outdoor outlet installed in the corner of our house closest to the coop just for this purpose.
Let’s just be honest. If you can’t or don’t want to run electric or extension cords to your coop, it will cost you in time. It’s all a trade off. If you are living in Texas, it probably won’t be too time consuming. If you are in Canada, you are going to wear a good path between your house & coop keeping that water liquid. There are even super cold times when my electric heater can’t keep up and I have to thaw the water. This is one of the reasons many large farms reduce their livestock numbers by butchering before winter sets in.
Because our ducks make such a mess with water, we keep the water in the run. Keeping the water inside the coop & possibly having wet shavings can really increases the risk of frostbite for your flock. Click here to learn more about preventing frostbite with your flock
Electric Pet Bowl
For the past several winters, we have used an electric heated pet bowl. I love that it is deep so the ducks can dip their whole heads in, and it holds plenty of water. If you have ducks, they will splash about and make a mess and try to swim in it, so keep this outside in the run. It was inexpensive & durable and has an internal thermostat so it only kicks on when the temperatures go below freezing to help keep electric bills down. If you can swing electric in your run this is my #1 recommendation.
Heated Waterer Base
Before we got ducks we used a heated waterer base. You need to have electricity available for this option, and a metal waterer. The nice part of this option is that you can use your existing metal waterer. The heater is a round base you put your waterer on top of. A thermostat will turn the heater on when temperatures dip below freezing. If you are using this option inside the coop, put the base on top of a cement block and keep shaving away from it to prevent fires. It doesn’t get super hot & is unlikely to catch on fire, but better safe than sorry.
Ping Pong Balls
If you don’t have electricity, you have to get a little more creative. This option will work great if your temps are in the 20s or so (colder than that and you will just need to be changing out the water more). Float a few ping pong balls in your water dish (use a rubber or plastic dish, metal holds the cold and will make the water freeze faster). As the breeze blows the balls around, and your birds drink and disturb the balls, they will keep ice from forming on the surface of the water for awhile.
Salt Water Float
This one is nearly free and easy! Put 1/4 cup salt in a 20 oz plastic water bottle, fill to the top with water. Float this salt water bottle inside your waterer. Salt water has a much lower freezing point (it has to get really cold for a really long time for ocean inlets to freeze). Floating this bottle in your water will slow the freezing process of the water around it. Much like the ping pong ball option from above, as the bottle moves about in the water, it will stop ice from forming and because the salt water isn’t freezing as fast it won’t lower the temp of the drinking water. I have used this option in a pinch when my electric heater base went down, and it really does extend the amount of time before the water freezes over.
Switching Out Waterers
This old school way is really the only tried and true way to keep your bird’s water from freezing when the temperatures get into the single digits, stays there for days and you don’t have electricity. You will need 2 plastic waterers, one that is outside, and another inside thawing. Keep the extra inside and you just have to swap it out for the frozen one a couple times during the day. The bigger the waterer, the longer it will take to freeze. This is certainly the most time consuming option – but it’s guaranteed to work!
If you don’t want to invest in several waterers, a free option is to bring out a pot of boiling water to thaw the waterer a few times per day. If you live in a moderate climate that gets only a few freezing days this option would be fine. Just be careful after you add the boiling water that it doesn’t make your chicken’s water too hot! Use a stick or spoon to stir up the boiling & frozen waters and carefully test the temperature with your hand.