Chooks need cool clean water every day. Fluid intake is particularly important for layers, as eggs are made up of 74% water. Hens may stop laying for a spell if they don’t get enough to drink in hot weather, so it’s worth maximising their hydration.
There are waterer designs to suit every flock; options include mop buckets, recycled ice cream containers, metal or ceramic dog bowls, plastic bell waterers, and nipple or cup systems that are plumbed to a rainwater tank or mains water.
When choosing a waterer, take into account the size and number of your birds. Expect fowls to drink twice as much as they eat in a day, and for this to increase markedly in very hot weather. Also consider the life of the component parts and what they are made from; for example cheap plastics will quickly degrade in sunlight, so have a shorter period of use, but do not actually break down for hundreds of years in landfill.
Keep it clean
Poultry water should be clean enough for you to drink. This means regularly giving containers a scrub to remove scum, which can be harmful to chooks’ health. Some waterers have slots that are tricky to clean; I keep a shaggy dog toothbrush to reach those parts.
While chooks love to drink from puddles, keep them away from standing water after floods or cyclones as it may be a source of botulism.
How chooks drink
Chooks drink by bending down, scooping water into their beaks from the side, then tipping their heads up so it flows down their throats. This means they find low, wide-mouthed containers easiest to access. Waterers that restrict scooping will be less comfortable, while cups or nipples set too high can cause birds to stretch up, not down, to access water, which may actually restrict intake. Set these no higher than beak height.
When chooks get hot, they pant to release body heat. The physical mechanics of panting make it difficult for chooks to gain a satisfying drink from nipple or cup water systems. To ensure fowls get sufficient water on hot days, add a supplementary water source, preferably a wide mouthed container. As a bonus, they can splash water on their comb and wattles as they drink, which helps cool them down.
Like us, chooks prefer cold water on a hot day. Tepid won’t appeal, and water more than 5 degrees above their body temperature will be rejected. Run the hose to get the temperature to cold before refilling bowls, and keep containers in the shade. To maintain cool water temperatures, freeze a plastic 500ml water bottle the night before and place it in their water container during the day to slowly defrost.
You can make chook ‘icy poles’ with a muffin tin. Place fruit or cooked vegies like corn in the holes, top up with water, and freeze. Offer on a hot day and watch the fun!
First published: February 2020