Picking the Best Heated Waterer for Your Coop
Do you need a heated waterer for chickens? Water is a critical part of keeping your birds happy, healthy, and productive. Without it, bad things happen. When the temperatures fall and water freezes, your birds will be deprived of one of their most essential nutrients. This is where a heated waterer for chickens comes into play.
Why We Care
Water deprivation used to be considered an acceptable method of forced molting in the poultry industry. Today, the industry relies on the more humane method of changing their lighting scheme to coordinate a unified, flock-wide forced molt. That being said, depriving a bird of water, either intentionally or unintentionally, can still cause a bird to go into a molt.
Chickens naturally go into a process called molting after about 12 months of laying eggs. This process is characterized as a full stop on egg laying, followed by a feather tract by feather tract shedding. As each feather set is shed, a new set of feathers are grown to replace them.
Chickens typically take a month to go through this process before they start laying again. While they’re taking a break from laying, they’re also replenishing their stores of xanthophyll (pronounced Zan-Tho-Phil), which causes the yellow pigmentation in their skin, legs, and egg yolks.
Out of Water
Accidentally molting your flock during the cold months can put a damper on your egg production. Losing egg production during the winter might result in you not seeing any eggs until spring, depending on the flock, your chicken coop design, and your local weather. If you planned on having omelets over the winter, you’re kind of out of luck.
Like all creatures, chickens require water to function. Water deprivation can cause some severe health issues which, depending on the frequency, can range anywhere from a loss of production to death. It’s good to understand how cold is too cold for chickens, but water deprivation will happen much sooner.
When You Don’t Need a Heated Waterer
Depending on your chicken coop design, you may not need a heated waterer for chickens. Does your coop’s inside temperature get below freezing? If not, you may not need a heated waterer for chickens. Did you insulate your coop well enough that it holds heat? Do you heat your barn in the winter? These instances may let you skip using a heated waterer for chickens, but if you start finding frozen waterers in the winter, you may want to pick one up.
Heated Waterers for Chickens
There are a few commercial solutions out there for keeping your water from freezing. Technology is slowly catching up to the backyard chicken market, so keep an eye out for new products on the shelves of your local farm supply store. For now, we have three general types of heated waterers for chickens.
Steel Heater Bases
The old standard heated waterer for chickens has been the tried and true steel pan with a heating element. These heated waterer bases, or heated stands, are a straightforward and effective solution. These contraptions are nothing more than a steel pan with a heating element stuck inside. You turn the pan upside down, plug it into an electrical outlet and set your waterer on top.
Conduction bases don’t get all that hot, but it’s generally recommended not to use a plastic waterer on top of one, not just because plastic can melt, but also because plastic is an insulator, not a conductor. Using steel double-wall chicken waterers allows the steel on the steel arrangement to conduct heat better to the water inside the waterer.
Downside To Steel
Steel heated waterer bases are adequate, but they’re exposed to lots of moisture by design. Even though these bases are galvanized for corrosion resistance; they don’t last all that long. Rust is an issue for sure. Also, the double-wall galvanized chicken waterers you typically use in conjunction with them are finicky, rust just as fast, and still leave a trough of open water that is easily contaminated. A steel heater base and double-wall waterer make for an effectively heated waterer for chickens, but if your coop design allows, I suggest using a nipple bucket with a heater element.
In addition to the standard steel waterer base and double walled waterer combo, you do have a similar all-in-one option. Several manufacturers offer a plastic waterer with a built-in heater element. These plastic trough style waterers solve the rusting dilemma and don’t require a separate heated base like the steel double wall waterers. The bottom section of the waterer includes a heater element, leaving you the opportunity to either set it on a platform or hang it in the coop.
The downfall of this design, however, is the fact that you still have an open trough that can easily be contaminated. Additionally, many of these designs require you to turn them upside down to refill, unlike the convenient lift-top design of the steel double-walled waterer.
If you use a nipple bucket waterer, you’re not out of luck! You’re a quick Google search away from several commercially available bucket de-icers. If you are using a de-icer in a nipple bucket, be sure it’s a de-icer and not a heating element, because there are many heaters meant to get the contents of a bucket hot, which is not what we want. We’re looking for a unit that lays in the bottom of the bucket and is thermostatically controlled. Be sure the de-icer you choose is safe for plastic buckets!
Heated Nipple Buckets
Being able to keep your nipple buckets through the winter will give your birds the cleanest water possible, avoid unnecessary leakage, and should make your chores simpler. If you haven’t made a nipple bucket waterer yet, you should! If you don’t have the time or inclination to do so, there are commercially available nipple buckets, even ones with built-in heaters! These kill two birds with one stone, proverbially speaking of course.
Dealing With the Cold
If you’d rather maintain an ambient temperature in your coop without too much fuss, I’m a fan of putting a 250-watt infrared heat lamp in the coop, attached to a thermostat plug. Be sure that the thermostat plug (also called a cube) is rated for the demanding draw of your heat lamp. Otherwise, you may overload it and cause a fire hazard.
A Little Extra
If you’re expecting a cold snap or some very low temperatures, consider giving your birds a little more energy before the weather hits. Giving your birds cracked corn or even oatmeal for chickens several hours before the low temperatures hit, will give them an extra boost of energy. That extra boost will help them maintain their body heat a little easier, which will help them cope with sudden changes in temperature.