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Why Water is Critically Important to Chickens

A photo of Kathy Shea 

Mormino“Water is the driving force of all nature.” Leonardo da Vinci

white hen wading in puddle 
103° in the shade, water is critical to survival. This area was intentionally flooded & the food placed in the middle of the puddle to cause the hens to wade in it to cool off 

I have always known that my chickens need clean, fresh water, but I never knew the scope of its importance until recently when researching some questions I had on the subject. The following is the essence of what I learned:

For Metabolism 

"Water is involved in every aspect of poultry metabolism. It plays important roles in regulating body temperature, digesting food, and eliminating body wastes. At normal temperatures, poultry consume at least twice as much water as feed. When heat stress occurs, water consumption will double or quadruple."  

The Essential Nutrient 

"Water is often taken for granted, and yet it is probably the most essential nutrient. Water is by far the single constituent of the body, and, in general, represents about 70% of total body weight. Access to water is very important, and a lack of water for several hours will probably cause a decline in egg production. Hens are more sensitive to a lack of water than a lack of feed.”  

girl with frog boots and hose 

Amount of Water Needed 

"Water and food consumption rates are interdependent, so reduced water intake can also lead to reduced food intake. There are other factors that affect water intake, with temperature being the most obvious one. For example, chickens drink between 30-50% more water when the environmental temperature is above 32oC compared with when it is 21oC. Water intake is also affected by the type of drinkers used. The rule of thumb for water intake is that water intake is usually 1.5 to 2 times feed intake.”  

For Digestion 

“Water in the crop softens the feed so that digestion can occur. Without the water, dry feed forms clumps in the crop that can press on the bird’s carotid artery, decreasing blood flow to the brain. This can cause paralysis and possible death. Poultry anatomy complicates matters. A split in the upper hard palate of the beak allows air into the nasal passages and prevents the chicken from forming a vacuum in its mouth. Hens, therefore, rely on gravity to draw water into the crop."

As my flock has grown in size and number, so have the number and size of waterers I have tried. The smaller, 1 gallon waterers require filling twice each day, which is not convenient. Not only is more work to keep many, smaller waterers full but it is much more work cleaning each one regularly. My current goal is to reduce the number of waterers, trips to the hose and minutes spent cleaning each week.

four waterers 

baby chicks
With baby chicks, I find that raising the waterer up from the floor with a block of wood or cookie tin keeps the water cleaner longer. They will eventually learn to climb on top of the waterer and a large, upside-down funnel works to discourage that behavior.  

nipple waterer, cookie tin water heater
I have tried nipple waterers and while I may have continued using them, I didn't feel my hens were drinking enough water. Had I started using the nipple waterers when they were chicks, we likely would have had better success. Freezing temperatures are not conducive to the use of nipple waterers, however.  

metal waterer on blue water heater
Keeping water liquid during freezing temperatures is a major challenge that must be met as chickens' feed consumption increases in the cold and they require water to digest it. I made several cookie tin water heaters, for less than $10 each, which work well even in below-freezing temperatures.  

When one of my sponsors, JeffersLivestock, invited me to select a product from its catalog to review, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to trade-up to a much larger watering system. I selected the 4-H Easy-Fill Drinker as a portion of the sales of it is used to promote 4-H educational programs. The product description also appealed to me: "easy-fill, easy-clean 5 gallon poultry drinker is molded from long-life plastic. It features a top fill bucket using a float in the base to allocate water to the rim. This drinker is excellent for indoor and outdoor use and accommodates up to 75 chickens or game birds.14 1/2" (W) x 24" (H)." I love this product now but it took a long time to get to happy, trust me.

4-H waterer in front of coop
4-H Easy-Fill Drinker from JeffersLivestock   

I snickered to myself when I opened the box and found instructions. Seriously? Who needs instructions to use a waterer? Suffice it to say that between my husband and I, with two college degrees and a law degree between us, we were unable to figure out how to make the water stay in the unit. Much like some "people" who loathe the idea of stopping the car to ask for directions, I was not fond of the idea of calling to ask someone how to use this product, but it had to be done.

Bob, a product manager with the manufacturer, Harris Farms, is a good and patient man, who spent a solid 45 minutes trying to explain it to me, part by part. I admit now that it is not a complicated system, but the assembly instructions could be made clearer. I told Bob to explain it to me like I was a five year old and the following is a visual representation of our conversation. I think these photos should be included with every unit sold. ☺

4 black hens, waterer behind
This waterer cracked without having made it through one winter here in New England. The float stop controls the flow of water into the base and is the linchpin of the entire operation. Ours was not in the correct location and was never going to work properly unless it was in the proper position. Now that it is, this waterer is a dream. Since it will serve up to 75 chickens, I now have an excuse to get more chickens. I like to think of it at The Big Gulp®, for poultry. :)  

base float
Bottom of waterer with float mechanism  

4 black plastic parts plug, bolt with Oring
The parts. There is also an O-ring on the top thread of the bolt, which is hard to see here. The float stop is the key to the waterer's operation. The plug simply allows the bucket of water to be filled without running into the base while the waterer is carried to the desired location. 

Top view of base white
Looking down into the bottom of the white water bucket at the male end of the plug holder  

bottom view of base, float stop female end
Bottom view of the of the white, water bucket. This piece meets the green base and float. The float stop MUST be in the female end of the plug holder to operate correctly. 

nut in position, bottom of green base
View of bottom of waterer base. The nut is inserted through the bottom of the white water bucket and the bucket is held in place against the float and green base. The nut is then threaded onto the bolt. 

plug covering plug holder
View of the bottom of the white water bucket with the nut & bolt secured and the water plug covering the male end of the plug holder.  

nut and bolt in place
View looking down into the white water bucket. The plug is removed during operation to allow water to flow through to the float stop. 

lock unlock
The lid of the waterer has notches that fit into the white water base, which prevents the lid from blowing off in high winds. 

hose filling waterer
Fill waterer with plug in place and remove plug prior to operation  

white and brown hens drinking from waterer
Enjoy ladies!