How To Keep Chicken Water From Freezing Once & For All

Every winter, chicken owners are faced with how to keep their flock’s water from freezing. Thankfully, farmers and homesteaders have battled this issue on their livestock’s behalf for generations and come up with many solutions.

While some commercial farms use fancy indoor tanks that circulate water outdoors, that is too expensive (and overkill) for most of us raising chickens in backyards and small homesteads.

There are many cheaper and easier ways for a small flock and I will show you nine different methods and talk about what we have tried and what has worked the best — as well as what didn’t.

At the end of this article are all of my chicken winter-care resources and I highly recommend you give them a look — winter is coming.

Yes, you can go out bleary-eyed to crack the iced-over chicken water every morning. You can take pitchers full of boiling water to pour into the chicken’s bowl.

But there are other ways, I swear, that work.

9 Hacks To Prevent Chicken Water From Freezing

Some suggestions for battling frozen chicken water are more practical than others. For example, moving to a warmer climate will solve the issue, but it is ridiculously drastic and expensive.

Also, tips such as adding ducks to your chicken flock are great for many reasons, but I assure you that even the constant splashing of the ducks will not prevent water from freezing in winters as cold as ours in Canada or in the Northern States.

I’ve rounded up suggestions and tricks that are generally inexpensive and easy to implement.

Reduce Freezing By Putting Water In Sunny Spot

Place your chicken’s water in a sunny spot outside in the run that is accessible. Putting it in the coop is messy, and the flock doesn’t drink at night, anyway.

On top of that, water in the coop during winter can be deadly as it will raise the humidity levels inside which can lead to frostbite.

During the summer, we look to put the water in the shade to help keep our birds cool. But in the winter, sunlight is an excellent weapon against frozen water.

This is an obvious first step that doesn’t hurt. It will not prevent the water from freezing obviously when temperatures get really drastic.

a white and speckled rooster walks in the snow

Use A Black Rubber Tub To Minimize Freezing

Black absorbs sunlight and is the least reflective color. Thus, using a black rubber tub or container for your chicken’s water will help capture the sun’s rays, limiting freezing.

Insulate Chicken Water To Prevent Frozen Water

Insulating the chicken’s water container will help prevent freezing. However, the insulation must be safe for chickens. Some people dig a hole and partially bury the water container, using the earth as an insulator. Others pack woodchips around the container to limit freezing.

I do this and I can confirm it helps quite a bit.

Add Ping Pong Balls To Water

Ping pong balls are an excellent way to bring interest and amusement to your flock’s lives while adding inexpensive agitation. Moving water freezes slower than still. Therefore, the water will be agitated as the breeze moves the balls and when the chickens peck the curious spheres.

This helps for a bit and there is no harm in trying, but in our very cold temperatures, this will not stop water from freezing over.

Give Chickens An Electric Heated Dog Water Bowl

An electrically heated dog water bowl will prevent your chicken water from freezing. This heated water bowl holds a whopping 230 ounces.

If your coop doesn’t have electricity, see if you can run an extension cord out there.

I can confirm this works great. However, the bowls need refilling more often than I like, and not everyone has electricity to their coops like I do and some of you will have coops that are too far out to run an extension cord.

This is better for smaller flocks.

hen in her winterized covered run outside of the coop

Salt Water Jugs

A time-honored solution by ranchers, cowboys, and pig farmers is to toss jugs filled with saltwater into their livestock’s troughs. This trick is essentially the ping pong hack on a grander scale. The saltwater in the jugs doesn’t freeze and so they stay buoyant and the agitation of the jugs bobbing in the water does help prevent freezing.

Combined with a partially buried and large, water tub/container, this is much better than the ping pong balls and it really does help keep the water from freezing.

DIY Water Warmer: Lightbulb, Extension Cord & Cookie Tin

You can buy an electric metal water warmer to prevent your chicken water from freezing. You just place your water system on top of it to keep the contents in a liquid state.

However, you can also make a DIY water warmer plate using a lightbulb, extension cord, and an old cookie tin or cinder block.

To do it, you place the lightbulb inside the cookie tin or cinderblock, ensure it is sealed tight, and then set the chicken water on top once you’ve got it hooked up to an extension cord.

This is one of the best options out there. If you have electricity in your coop or can run an extension cord to your chicken’s area — this is 100% worth it. This is what we ended up doing and sticking with as it really works well.

You can watch this YouTube tutorial for more information.

Reducing Surface Area

Reducing the exposed area of the chickens’ water will help prevent freezing. It’s like adding a pool cover to the bowl, but you leave the edges exposed. People use a lid or a tarp to make their own. Again, it should cover the central part of the exposed tub but leave room on the sides so the chickens can still drink.

Get An Aquarium Heater For Bucket Nipple Waters

If you use a nipple water bucket for your chickens to drink, you can add a submersible aquarium heater to prevent freezing. This trick is unsafe for open containers, as the chickens will peck at the aquarium heater. But for enclosed nipple buckets, the flock can’t get to the heater, so it will be safe.

small white chicken inside her coop

Freezing Chicken Water Hacks To Avoid

The internet is full of freezing chicken water hacks. But just because a trick lowers the water’s freezing point doesn’t make it a good idea. After all, vodka and gin also have lower freezing points than water, and we’re not giving that to our flock I hope.

Don’t Add Salt To Chickens’ Water

Cambridge University looked into the research on chicken drinking saline water (salty water) and concluded it has adverse effects on the flock’s health. A little salt in a chicken’s diet is fine, but not the amounts required to reduce the water’s freezing point.

Apple Cider Vinegar Does Not Help

Many suggest adding apple cider vinegar to chicken water because it has a lower freezing point (28 F). It is true that giving chickens some apple cider vinegar won’t hurt them, although the benefits in studies have been underwhelming.

However, it would take a lot of vinegar to affect the freezing point of your chicken’s water significantly. Too much apple cider vinegar isn’t healthy, not for chickens or for people. So spare your poor flock from this well-intentioned but problematic suggestion.

I actually do put a few tablespoons in my chicken water every once in a while (along with garlic) in case there are actual immunity boosting properties as it doesn’t hurt.

Glycerin Will Not Work

Commercial agriculture has looked into the benefits of glycerin to chicken diets, and there is evidence that small amounts are fine. However, like salt and apple cider vinegar, it requires unhealthy amounts of glycerin to lower the freezing point of your chicken’s water.

Final Thoughts & What I Do (Successes & Failures)

It is a pain to routinely venture out to the coop to break up frozen chicken water or to haul buckets several times a day through deep snow. I know because I did it our first year and it sucked.

(Speaking of things that suck badly in the winter, do you have an automatic coop door yet? One that will survive the coldest winters? Because you should for your own sanity.)

Thankfully, many affordable suggestions can reduce the likelihood that your flock’s water will freeze.

We used the heated dog water bowl, we submerged a large water container with a jug, we tried a stock tank heater and that worked GREAT — until it broke for some reason, (a very annoyingly expensive experiment) but ultimately the lightbulb tricked worked best.

If you can’t get electricity to the coop and run area, then try a combination of the above. In your shoes and under those circumstances, I would try adding a black tarp to cover most of a large submerged and insulated container. I think that is likely the best cheap no-tech option.

There is more to chicken winter care and getting your flock ready for winter so read on and be prepared for whatever may come.

a flock of chickens on green pasture.

The Ultimate Guide to Homestead & Backyard Chicken Keeping 

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