The Complete Guide To Chickens And Water

Water is a natural resource that we use daily.

Just like humans, your chickens need water too.

They need it to help regulate their temperature, for egg laying and much more.

We rarely think about water yet it is vital to productivity and life in the coop. When the waterer is empty we fill it, but it really does not end there.

What follows is a complete guide to watering chickens. We will explain everything you need to know about chickens and water…

A 5 Gallon Chicken Waterer

The Importance Of Water For Chickens

Water is vital to life but what exactly does it do?

The first thing it does is help chickens to regulate their temperature.

This is especially important for chickens as the only way they can lose heat is from their feet, comb, wattles and panting and spreading their wings. By drinking lots of cool water they can help to regulate their temperature and stay hydrated.

Next up is egg laying.

When chickens do not have enough water they will stop laying eggs. Their body cannot function normally if it is dehydrated.

Water also helps chickens with their digestion. Water is used to help break down food into an easily digested form. The nutrients from the food, electrolytes and vitamins are transported through the body by the blood (which has a large water component) and is delivered at the cellular level.

Without water digestion issues such as sour crop can occur.

Least but not last is brain health.

A dehydrated brain does not work well at all. Thoughts are fuzzy, disorganized and lack clarity. Keeping their brain hydrated is very important as a dehydrated chicken is much more vulnerable to predation or injury.

Chickens and Water Explained

Chicken Waterer

How much water does an adult hen drink each day?

A rough answer is that each hen should drink about one pint (0.5l) of water each day on average according to this study.

For example:

  • A flock of 6 chickens will around six pints (3l) of water per day.
  • A flock of 12 chickens should have around 12 pints (6l) of water per day.
  • A flock of 18 chickens should have around 18 pints (9l) of water per day.

However the exact number will depend on a few key factors.

Your hens will drink more when it is hot.

Other things that can affect the amount of water they drink will be size of the bird, whether they free range and if they are egg layers. Egg layers will drink more than those that do not lay eggs. And free ranging chickens will drink a little less because they get moisture from other sources.

Just make sure to keep the waterer full of fresh and clean water.

How much water does a chick drink a day?

Baby chicks should drink about 1½-2 times the amount of food they eat.

While that answer may leave you scratching your head it really is not something you should be fretting over.

Once you have introduced your chicks to the water station they will remember and return to it when they need to drink. Do not confuse them by moving things around. You should keep the water in one place so they do not have to wander around looking for it.

Your chicks should be bright eyed, active and talkative.

Because they fresh water at all times make sure the waterer is topped up before you head for bed at night.

How many waterers does your flock need?

Metal Chicken Waterer

You should aim to give one waterer for every 6-8 chickens as an average.

For example:

  • A flock of 6 chickens will need one waterer.
  • A flock of 12 chickens you should have two waterers.
  • A flock of more than 12 chickens should have at least three waterers.

Where to place waterers?

It is always a good idea to place waterers a good distance from each other just in case you have a hen who thinks they are her personal property and refuses to share.

I tend to place a waterer close to the coop and another at the bottom end of the run.

If you have a long run separate from the coop then this is an excellent place to put a waterer. Likewise if you let your flock free range then having a large waterer out on the range is a good idea too.

Wherever you decide to place the waterer you should always elevate it high enough to prevent dust, straw and poop being scratched up into the water. If you have bantams you may need to put some bricks or steps up to the waterer.

You should always try to place waterers in a shaded areas to prevent the water from getting too hot to drink.

How do I get my chickens to drink?

Chick Drinking

Chicks are usually easy to get to drink.

You will need to dip their beaks in the water and this will imprinted on them where the water source is.

From now on they will handle it on their own.

As for adult chickens you will only need to show them the waterer if they are newly added to your flock. Even then though they are usually savvy enough to do their own beak dipping and will take refreshment as and when they need it.

It is rare that a healthy chicken will not drink.

However there are a couple of things to check for.

Firstly do they know where the water is and is the water clean, fresh and cool? If the answer is yes then move on.

Do you have an alpha hen who is guarding the water source? If the answer is yes then a simple solution is to provide a second waterer. Make sure it is well away from the first waterer so the alpha hen cannot guard both at once.

Finally if you have a hen that is refusing to drink and looks poorly then you are going to need to give her some one-on-one time.

The easiest way is by syringe feeding her some water.

If you have to use this method remember the water needs to be slowly introduced so that she does not choke.

Do chickens drink water at night?

Your young chicks will drink at night (especially if you have a light on them).

They will take a nap and then have a snack and a drink before they settle down again.

However adult chickens like to sleep at night.

Unlike ducks who fidget, talk, eat, drink and move around at night, chickens like their beauty rest. Once they are up on that perch they are unlikely to move before the next morning unless something really disturbs them.

With matured hens you do not need to provide water in the coop overnight.

The only exception to this rule is that any sick chickens need to have access to water overnight.

How often do I need to clean the waterer?

In a perfect world your waterers should be rinsed daily.

However most of us have busy lives so this is not always possible. Just make sure this happens more often than not.

Then every month you can give your waterers a serious clean.

You can scrub and rinse them with plain water and vinegar or a bleach solution – this is a quick and simple job.

If you do not clean the waterer often enough you will get something called biofilm. You can actually feel this biofilm in dirty waterers. It feels slick and slimy on the sides of the container. If you find biofilm on your waterers this means you are not cleaning it frequently enough.

Try to keep your waterers out of direct sunlight since the light and heat will cause any organisms to proliferate. If you use range waterers you need to try and keep wild birds away from the waterer itself especially in these times of Avian Influenza.

Different Types Of Chicken Waterers Explained

There are a few different types of waterers out there and each has its good and bad points.

Most waterers are made from either plastic or metal. You can buy earthenware waterers too but these are generally more expensive.

If you need help picking the perfect waterer then you can read our guide: 5 best chicken waterers: the complete guide.

Chicken Waterer Cups

Chicken Using Cup

Chicken waterer cups are another nice little innovation.

They help to keep the water clean and also make sure there is always water available for your chickens. You can generally find two types. The first has a little flange that the chickens have to peck to get water. The second type refills the cup without the birds having to peck anything.

Waterer cups work very well and my chickens seem to like it.


  • Keeps water clean.
  • Are very reasonably priced.
  • Helps to prevent wasted water.
  • Can be used in DIY projects.


  • Some chickens may not understand the peck type.
  • Plastic will degrade over time.
  • Cups can freeze up in cold winters.

Standard Waterer (Gravity)

Chick Drinking

These waterers are the most common and you will have likely seen them in your local store.

They are generally the cheapest option and come in various sizes from a quart to several gallons. As you would expect the metal ones tend to last a bit longer.


  • Easy to setup.
  • Semi-transparent so you can check water level easily.
  • Lots of different sizes.
  • Very cheap.


  • Plastic can melt in extreme heat.
  • Easy for chickens to foul the water by scratching.
  • Smaller waterers can sometimes fall over.

Trough Waterer

Water troughs can be automatic or manual.

The automatic ones are typically connected to a hose and will refill automatically once the water reaches a certain level. Some are better thought out than others and offer drinking ports rather than an open trough.


  • Ideal for smaller chickens such as bantams.
  • Auto filling will save you time and effort.
  • Very durable.


  • Can be expensive to buy.
  • Auto fills can break during cold winters.
  • They can easily get contaminated with debris.

Nipple Waterer

Chicken Nipples

The last type of waterer we will cover here is the nipple waterer.

Nipples are an attachment that can fit to a bucket to allow the chickens to drink without wasting any water and keep the remaining water clean. This is a great idea and works well for many folks however there are some chickens that do not get it and cannot or will not use them despite all attempts to train them.


  • Cuts down on water waste.
  • Can be used for DIY projects.
  • Keeps water clean.
  • Ready-made units are priced reasonably.


  • Do not work well in cold winters.
  • Chickens will need to be trained how to use them.
  • Moving parts can clog up if you have water with a high iron content.

Signs Your Chickens Are Not Getting Enough Water

Chickens Drinking Water

Dehydration usually occurs during the summer months but it can occur all year round.

Summer dehydration is usually caused by the combination of excessive heat and humidity. When the heat and humidity is high a hen can become dehydrated very quickly.

The first signs of distress are panting – she will open her beak and hold her wings away from her body.

These signs mean she is hot and becoming uncomfortable. You should intervene now before it becomes worse.

They may have pale combs and wattles due to ineffective circulation because of the dehydration. It may seem strange but hens will get diarrhea too. This is because they are drinking more but eating less and the excess water will make the poop watery.

If she becomes lethargic or limp then she is now in dangerous territory and needs immediate treatment (see below).

In wintertime dehydration is usually caused by mechanical type failures such as frozen water dishes.

It is important to check that your equipment works properly at least weekly. In the northern climates waterers freeze quickly so you will need to change the water up to three times a day.

Check those waterers frequently so they do not run dry!

Treatment For Dehydration

If your chicken is dehydrated due to the heat and humidity then you should immediately remove them from the sun and heat.

To rehydrate them as quickly as possible you can use a child’s electrolyte solution.

If you do not have an electrolyte solution available then you can make your own using: 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, ¼ teaspoon sea salt and ¼ teaspoon baking soda. This mix should be added to 2 cups of water and you should stir until dissolved.

I make up some every few days and keep in the fridge as a just in case during the hot summer months.


Chickens really are not too picky when it comes to water.

We do our best to provide clean fresh water to them only to watch them drink from mud puddles!

However you should still try to keep their water as clean as you can to avoid them getting sick and losing productivity.

We all have busy lives but we should be checking the waterers every other day (at least).

Let us know about your waterers in the comments section below…

Chris Lesley Bio Picture
Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and is interested in backyard chicken health and care.

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