Chicken waterers come in various designs, but all face challenges due to their environment.
If you’re raising chickens, they’ll need access to fresh water, so overcoming these challenges is important.
From the traditional fount to the automatic watering systems, each one is prone to what the weather, environment and chicken/animal activity can do to interfere with proper operation.
Human interaction is often required to overcome these problems.
Ideally, what we use will minimize the chore of keeping fresh water for your chickens.
Occasional upkeep is okay, but I’d like to keep my chores associated with watering my chickens to something like once a week.
Basic Design of Waterers
Although I’m not experienced in all designs, I can offer an overview of the most common ones, and discuss how I have handled raising chickens and keeping them watered.
Founts – the most common of chicken waterers. Founts come in a variety of sizes, with the largest being about 9 gallons. Since water is heavy, it limits how large you can make a container.
Nine gallons of water weights over 70 pounds, so making a larger fount is possible, but it won’t be mobile after about 12 gallons.
These type of chicken waterers are made from metal as well as plastic. I use metal since it is unaffected by UV radiation, can be banged around a bit without breaking and can have heat applied to the bottom to prevent water from freezing.
Automatic chicken waterers – these consist of float arrangements and on-demand systems with valves. The float is automatic, filling a small trough or cup with water whenever it gets low.
The on-demand valve systems require activation by the chicken’s beak before water is dispensed.
Troughs – are like the name implies, a shallow trough that fills with water so multiple chickens can drink at the same time.
Such arrangements can be continuous feed, set up on a timer, or provided with a float arrangement.
With any of the designs that place water in a trough, cup or dispenser, it’s important to make certain the devices are level.
Otherwise, when they fill up they spill over and waste water. This will create a mess, increase water consumption and make more work for you.
The three basic challenges that face any of the chicken waterers encompass temperature, wind, and animals. Let’s look at these to see how each might affect the watering system for our chickens.
Temperature – hot and dry conditions make chickens drink more, and water open to the environment will evaporate more quickly.
In cold temperatures, water will freeze unless you have heat applied to the water sources.
Wind – whether it’s cold or hot, the wind can accelerate evaporation, lap the water out of the waterer, and blow contaminants into the water.
Animals – our chickens are the biggest challenge in this area. They poop anywhere, including right in the waterers.
When they drink, whatever is in their mouth will often drop into the water and serve to help spoil its freshness.
Also, they don’t mind scratching up the soil and flinging it right into their own source of water.
Other animals are usually not a problem because they are generally excluded from the area where chickens are kept, except for birds which seem to get in just about everywhere.
Birds don’t drink much, but we don’t need more poop from other contributors spoiling the water.
Overcoming the Challenges
Let’s look at how each of the issues of wind, animals and temperature can be overcome with the use of chicken waterers.
The problem of animals is largely solved by installing shields.
You’ll probably never get rid of the birds that want their share of fresh water, but you can keep your chickens and other birds from pooping in the water by overhanging shields or installing the waterers under a shelf or other overhang that allows roosting but offers no direct path for animals to drop their waste in the water.
Wind is addressed by barriers, baffles and moving the source of water indoors or to a more protected locatioin.
Once the chickens find where your water is located, they’ll be happy to go get it.
Keeping the source of water indoors can be a bit inconvenient, especially if you’re using founts because they’re heavy to move indoors once they’re full.
It also means the water mess is inside instead of outside, so depending on your situation, this might not be ideal.
High temperatures are just something we have to live with.
There isn’t anything we can do about that.
GChickens will demand more water and evaporation rates will be higher, so you just have to provide more water.
Low temperatures are the biggest challenge and can be handled in several ways.
Let me present the ways that I know of, and provide what I consider to be the pros and cons of each.
- Heater bases under metal founts – effective, but expensive and short lived – unless you make your own.
- Heating the indoor area where chicken waterers are located – expensive and wasteful. Heating the water source is much more efficient.
- Heat tracing the water lines that supply watering cups, troughs and automatic waterers – effective, but heat tape must be protected from animals. Enclose the water supply line and the heat tape inside a PVC pipe for maximum protection and retention of heat.
- Place heat sources under the troughs and automatic waterers – wiring must be protected from the constant pecking of chickens, and heat must be “captured” and concentrated on the trough or water dispenser.
- Use of ground source heating to keep water temperature above freezing. This requires an underground reservoir or a heat exchanger buried deep in the ground to extract the natural 40 degree to 50 degree F temperature of the earth. It also requires a pump and possibly a timer, so that adds to expense and complexity.
- Keep the water moving – effective but expensive, and this promotes evaporation as well. Most effective if combined with ground source heating to reheat water that has been cooled from exposure to winter temperatures. In any event, a pump is required.
- Solar heating of water with a drain back system so water doesn’t freeze in the solar heater during the night. Effective, but just as complicated as ground source heating, and it only works on sunny days.
- Paint water founts black – useful as a supplemental heat source, but it won’t address cold temperatures at night nor cold temperatures for multiple cloudy days.
- Aerate the water – useful as air dissolved in water makes it less prone to freezing, but as energy intensive as heaters and not as effective.
There is no easy solution to keeping chicken waterers from freezing. Any way you look at it, you’ll have to expend resources for heating or circulation or insulation because a few days at below zero with no sunshine will freeze up even the most robust and protected of passive systems.
And then, your waterers are destroyed by the freeze expansion of ice.