Chickens drink more than they eat (see did-you-know card on drinking water), so it’s very important that they always have access to fresh water. Let’s see the different ways to quench their thirst. There are two ways of providing water to your flock: automatic and manual. An auto-waterer is very convenient because you never have to worry about the waterer running dry. It requires some setup and is more expensive. And just like with garden irrigation, you need to check it regularly to make sure it’s not clogged... Manually filling a waterer requires no setup, and forces you to go out and spend some time with your chickens. This is what we do in our coop. We brought a long garden hose to the chicken area to make it even easier to refill the waterers. A bonus of the manual waterer is that you can easily add things into the water like ice cubes to keep the water cool during hot summer days. There are many types of waterers. The simplest being a bowl which we don’t recommend because it gets dirty almost instantly. The chickens will step in it and knock it over.
1) Basic round waterer: It has a trough around the bottom with a shallow lip that the chickens drink from. The vacuum pressure allows just enough water to always keep the trough filled. It’s best to keep it elevated off the ground or hung from the coop so that it doesn't get dirt in it. The plastic version is quite inexpensive, but the light goes through and allows the algae to develop. We use the galvanized steel version in our coop as it also keeps the water cooler. 2) Nipple system: Nipples can be attached to the bottom of a bucket or along a PVC pipe. It’s a very clean system. The nipples should be placed slightly above the head of the chickens as they drink using gravity and not suction. The main disadvantages are that they need to be checked regularly to ensure they aren’t clogged, chickens need to learn how to use them, and most importantly the chickens may not drink enough water. 3) Drink cups: Similarly to nipples, they can be attached to a bucket or on a PVC pipe. The little cup gets filled on demand. Some chickens prefer to drink from a cup, rather than from a nipple. Note that when switching your waterer, make sure your chickens figure out the new system and drink enough. Here in the San Francisco bay area, we don’t need to worry about freezing waterers. But if you live in an area where the temperatures regularly get below freezing, you will need to either change water twice a day or get a heated waterer. Similarly to feeders, the size and number of waterers depend on the size of your flock. One basic waterer for 7-8 chickens is a good ratio. Also the age of your flock matters because chicks require a smaller waterer with a drown-proof base. We use a 3 gallon basic waterer for 6 adult chickens which lasts more than a week even in hot weather. It’s located in their run. We have an extra 3 gallon waterer in their free range area to avoid them walking back and forth to the coop for just a drink. And remember to keep the water clean at all time. Never let it go green or slimy :)