waterer for backyard chickens
If you are considering backyard chickens, you have likely seen a waterer like the one pictured to the left. We had one of these with our first batch of chickens years ago, picked up at an auction for a few bucks.
There's two problems with this kind of waterer. The first problem is that chickens can poop in it. It LOOKS designed to prevent that, but it doesn't work. Chickens can poop almost anywhere, they're amazing at it. This basically means you have to clean it a couple times a day, in which case a flat tray of water is actually easier to use.
The second problem is that the waterer will freeze solid in the winter. There are heated waterers you can buy, and if your coop is located so that electricity can be run to it, you may be able to do that.
Or you can just have a very clever husband who builds the most amazing redneck solutions, which is what worked for me! MacGyver is an amateur compared to my husband (who is sexier too!)
locating the coop
The downside was that we had to actually shovel a path to the coop several times over the winter, and when our hoses were frozen, had to haul water out there. It became very difficult to keep the waterer clean as they don't suddenly poop less often once the hose is frozen solid! When the snow was deep enough to prevent free-ranging, we had to haul food for them too. This made care-taking the chickens a rather unpleasant chore, but we dealt with it.
When we decided to do chickens again, our living situation was much different. Steve works very long hours as a truck driver, so care-taking the chickens would be my job and I am disabled now. We had to think about how to make this as easy as possible.
We have a huge porch, same square footage as our house, and it's enclosed in a redneck manner by my clever husband. So putting the coop next to the porch still kept them living a good 20 feet away, and provided them with shelter on one side of the coop as well, but also means there are literally only 4 steps in the weather I need to take to collect eggs, and feed and water them.
egg collection, feeding and watering right from the steps
The nest box is across the top of the coop, with two doors. It's actually a double-sized nest box, with a divider we can use to separate half of it as needed. This way, when a hen goes broody, she can nest and hatch her chicks and there's still a communal nest box available for the rest of the gang.
Because the floor of the nest box covers the top of the coop, we decided the best place to water the birds was directly under the nest box, so it would be impossible for them to ever be over the water and thus poop in it.
watering free-range chickens from outside their coop
The wood construction is set up to hold the 2-liter bottles upright, cover 90% of the pan to keep gunk out of the water,and keep it outside of the coop so no chicken can ever get into the water compartment.
But first, this is how I use it. I lift the bottles up to retrieve the tray. On winter morning, I dump the tray out because it's partly frozen.
During this whole polar vortex thing, it was solid and the tray needed some wacking around to get the giant ice cube out. But most days, it's just partially frozen.
I then put two full 2-liter bottles of water in, not hot, but relatively warm. Hey, I like hot beverages in the winter; I expect the chickens do too! I'm afraid to use hot as I'm not sure they're clever enough to not burn themselves.
The reason I put a whole gallon of water out is the larger the mass of water, the longer it will be until it freezes again. The tray only holds about a half gallon, so one of the 2-liters drains completely and the other maintains the water level.
Then I take the previous two 2-liter bottles in the house to warm up before the evening watering, if it's cold enough to warrant that.
Our winters here in central PA are relatively mild compared to many folks, so days where it stays above freezing all day, I don't even have to water in the evening, just in the morning. Those days, I have let them out to free-range in the morning, so my evening chore is just feeding them and locking the coop to keep them safe from predators.
It's not foolproof, when it was still warm out, I was dumping the tray sometimes anyway as random bits of straw or whatever wound up in it.
But having the coop so close to the porch and being able to feed and water from the outside has made a world of difference in ease of caring for the chickens this winter.
They're about 4 months old now, so should start their initial laying soon and I can use our clever design to gather eggs too!