Lesson 667 – Chicken Waterers and Winter

Now that the SNAP Challenge is over, we can get back to lessons learned living with children and chickens in New Hampshire (which will include thrifty and frugal living just not full time, but can I just say that if more people had chickens, there would be more quality food available – so it does go hand-in-hand.)


I recently had a reader contact me about chicken waterers in the winter.

She had read about our use of chicken nipples and my reservation of using them during the colder months (due to freezing temperatures up here in New Hampshire.)

Although we do use chicken nipples during the warmer weather, we do not use them in the winter. The nipple heads freeze up and the birds get nothing.

Important Note: while we’re on the subject of chicken nipples, simply by the way they work, they have to be suspended over the chickens, use care when using them around chicks that are not tall enough to reach them. In addition to the nipples, I always leave a smaller waterer at ground level as long as there are any chicks in the coop.

Over the years, we’ve tried a few options for getting water to our flock in the winter, we’ve taken the waterer into the house at night (always a big mess on the kitchen floor) and we’ve tried to refill it first thing in the morning (but then it just freezes up and water can’t pass through.) We finally figured out that a simple base heater (think college hotplate) is the way to go.


Ironically, right before this reader had contacted me, Marc had just ordered a new heater for our birds. This is our second heater in about 5 years.

For our set-up we put our heater on a cinder block and then our galvanized (not plastic) waterer on top of the heater. We don’t have electricity in our coop, so we run a heavy duty electrical cord through our back yard to the hen house. It’s not pretty but it works.

How we then use it is pretty simple; if the weather is below freezing, we plug the heater in (we don’t unplug it at night because it would take too long in the morning for the water to melt) and if the daytime temps are above freezing we don’t plug it in. Chickens do not need warm water, they simply need liquid water – don’t think that you need to provide them with Hot Chocolate temperature water in the winter.

Last winter was very temperate around here and we didn’t use the heater that much.

The winter before, we went below zero degrees on more occasions than I could count. A heating system was mandatory for the health of the flock.

It’s December 2012 and although we’ve had a bit of snow, for the most part, it’s been mild, so mild that we haven’t even taken our new heater out of the box.

But this is New Hampshire –  give us a week.


Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, chicken care

10 responses to “Lesson 667 – Chicken Waterers and Winter

  1. Harmon

    I have been using this heater in the coop since September. It works on a thermostat and only heats up when the temp goes below 35 degrees. I don’t unplug it. Since we have had a mild fall here in Cincinnati, oh. It has only gone on two or three times. Next week should have temps well below freezing so I think it will be working nightly.

  2. Very timely post!! Question about the galvanized waterer, ours is discolored, I suspect it is because of the cider vinegar we add but, I’m not sure if I should be concerned about it. Thoughts? Lee

    • Wendy Thomas

      Is it discolored or rusted?

      • Wendy Thomas

        If you’re getting rust then you need to cut back (way back) on the Apple Cider vinegar. Your chickens are new this season, you shouldn’t have that type of wear on your equipment.

        I would immediately discard any rusty waterer and replace it. (remember I’m an ex-microbiologist, I know about nasty rust-related pathogens.)

        And I would either cut back or eliminate the Apple Cider vinegar. Remember that the temps are cold right now, you’re not going to have much bacterial growth (I’m assuming that’s why you are using it?) for a few months.

        I don’t even use Apple Cider Vinegar in the summer, I find that if I swish out the waterer each day, there is no problem with growth.


  3. Thx. Yes, we change the water frequently (no longer than every other day. It sounds like I should take it a part and scrub down the whole thing.

  4. I got one of these the first year I got chickens. I went out to find my water fount completely frozen over with icicles hanging off the edge. This works the best of anything else I have tried.

    Nasty rust-related pathogens? Yikes, I had no idea! Can you tell us more or point us in the right direction to read about them? Thanks, Lynda

  5. We invested in three electrified dog dishes this season (a large one in each henhouse, plus another outside the pen for Luigi the Guinea during the day, when he free-ranges). I leave them plugged in all the time. So far, the electric bill has been noticeably lower than last year, when we had 2 heat lamps running most evenings (one in each structure). And this with a colder year so far. 🙂

  6. Pingback: A Very Worried Chicken Mama « Dreambles

  7. I just got the same water warmed this past Sunday.

    What I’m doing is bringing down the old plastic waterer that I used when the girls were chicks each morning when I open the coop. I then plug in the warmer. Water has frozen overnight, but it thaws and the plastic waterer is there in the meantime.

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