How a New Chicken Waterer Changed My Life
Reading Time: 4 minutes
It’s not often that something as simple as a chicken watering device generates a profound improvement in the life of a person. However, that is precisely what I experienced one Christmas, and three years later I’m still thankful for it. I was needlessly primitive in my entire approach to raising chickens, and a heated three-gallon poultry fountain updated my practices by at least a century or more.
For years, my alarm sounded at 3:30 a.m. so I could get up and feed the chickens before going to work. As I lay awake in our warm bed, the thought of getting up seemed horrendous, but so were mental images of chickens pecking at a solid ice block all day long. At length, I stood up and shuffled to the door. Then I crept down the stairs, disappeared into the kitchen, and set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
While I waited, I walked to the utility room to put on my chores duds. I tugged an old pair of jeans up over my pajama pants and sucked in my waist as I fastened them up. On a shelf nearby, a hodgepodge of sweatshirts and plaid flannels were neatly stacked and ready to be worn under my chore coat. After quite a bit of bending, twisting, and pulling, I had somehow managed to stretch a total of five or six thick shirts on top of me. By this point, I was roasting and sweating profusely. Now I knew it was time to stop layering.
I walked back into the kitchen to check on the water, and it was indeed boiling. After turning off the burner, I grasped the pot by the two side handles and carried it to the door. Still holding it in both hands, I grasped and turned the doorknob with two fingers of my right hand. (As I think about it, that was quite dangerous. One misstep and I could have experienced first-degree burns, at least. Of course, that is assuming the boiling water could have penetrated all of those layers.) I carefully opened the door the same way, as well as the frost-covered storm door, and carefully poured the scalding contents into a frigid two-gallon bucket waiting just outside the door. I stood and watched steam soar high out of the bucket until my eyeglasses were completely fogged.
Going back inside, I returned the pot to the sink and finished getting ready to head out. I donned my fleece neck warmer and pulled my knit toboggan hat low over my ears. Then, I snugly strapped on my nifty headlamp for plenty of hands-free capabilities. Finally, I pressed my already stiff arms through the thick canvas sleeves of my Dickies coat, pulled the hood over my head, and tightened the string. I was covered from head to foot, except for my eyes and, unfortunately, my hands. I always felt that it was easier to complete almost any form of work without wearing gloves, and my hands took a beating over the years for it.
Grabbing the metal egg basket, I opened the door to an Arctic blast. Waddling out the door, I looked like the boy from the movie, A Christmas Story, who was incapable of putting his arms down for all his many layers. I’m certainly glad that I didn’t fall down because I’m not sure that I could have picked myself back up. Sitting in the snow and ice, next to the bucket, sat my frozen rubber boots, which had the flexibility of concrete. Not only were they stiff, but they were frozen into the ice beneath them. After dislodging them, I brushed the snow off my three layers of socks and shoved each foot into its place.
After finally managing to get the boots on, I picked up the steaming water bucket and the egg basket again. Walking across the deck, I realized that there was still a huge chunk of ice still attached to the underside of one boot, while old, frozen boards groan sharply under my footsteps. There is nothing quite like the experience of stiffly hobbling across the deck like Frankenstein’s monster as gunshot blasts echo in the dark against the surrounding hills.
Eventually, the ice wore off of my boots as I made my way down the steps and across the backyard. In spite of the bitter cold temperatures, I was toasty warm under all my layers. My hands, unfortunately, were another story. Repeated exposure to the elements threatened to split my severely chapped hands wide open, but still, I trudged onward.
All was covered in darkness, but for the narrow beam of light from my headlamp that directed my path. Ahead sat the coop, where an ominous scene was soon revealed. Just outside lay the casualties of many twice-daily battles between man and frozen chicken waterers. Hundreds of ice chunks and some old broken waterers littered the ground. Soon, memories of the past came flooding back, such as the time an airborne gallon of water instantly coated my coat sleeve in ice. I had been hacking away at a block of ice with a screwdriver when suddenly a geyser shot straight up into the air and froze onto me before it could hit the ground. My arm was fixed at a 90-degree angle for the remainder of that morning’s chores.
Determined to end this war, I marched into the coop, grabbed the waterer, and hauled it outside. As usual, one solid block of ice filled the reservoir, threatening to pull me into conflict, but that was not to be. Today, I laughed and unceremoniously tossed it aside. I had brought something else with me; something to permanently stop the madness. Filled with joy and great hope for the future, I swung my head all around until my new heated waterer appeared in the lamp’s beam. I picked up the contraption with awe, as though looking at it for the first time. After filling it, I carried it triumphantly into the coop, hung it, and plugged it in.
Ever since that early morning, life has been so much better. That wonderful, new waterer provides three gallons of unfrozen water. One pleasant feeding after work is all that is required. Now, if I happen to wake up at 3:30 a.m., I smile, roll over, and go right back to sleep. There are no more ice blocks. No geysers. No frozen arms. I don’t even layer up like I used to. Nowadays, I’m down to only four!
Originally published in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.