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No-freeze chicken waterer

 
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Has anyone heard of this?  This youtube video shows a guy that puts a 20 oz bottle of salt water inside his chicken waterer to keep it from freezing.  He shows it working when the outside temperature is 9 degrees.  I doubt it's that cold inside the coop, but this would be a huge plus for me if it works at those temperatures.  I'm sure it won't work at the -30 to -40F temps I get, but it would sure extend the season that I could keep water from freezing.
 
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That’s interesting and low cost. Definitely worth trying as an experiment. Maybe drop in 2 bottles if the temp gets too low for 1 bottle to do the trick?
 
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My physics expert on freezing temperatures and salt water says this won't work:
1. Yes, salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water - we live by the ocean and we use brine bottles to fast freeze our chickens when we process them, so we've had experience in that area.
2. However, the chickens aren't drinking the salt water - they're drinking the surrounding fresh water.
3. Water is an energy hog - if the bottle of salt water is put in at "lukewarm", it will release it's energy to the surrounding fresh water which will slow down the speed at which the fresh water freezes. This is why "electric water bowl heaters" exist for farm animals. However, once the heat is gone, the water will start freezing usually by crystalizing at the edges. As the fresh water "changes phase" from liquid to solid, this releases a lot of energy which will slow the rest of the water from freezing, but given time, it will freeze.
4. If we're expecting below freezing weather, we will take jugs of hot water to the chickens and substitute it for the already starting to freeze water in their buckets at bedtime. This will slow the process, and hopefully there will still be a few pockets of unfrozen water in the morning and that the chickens can peck through the icy surface to get to them.
5. Although we use the type of waterer shown in the video for some of our birds in the warm months, in the winter we use a rubber bucket as these aren't damaged by freezing and are easier to get the ice out of.

Possibly for the fellow in the video, the density of chickens in the hen house were keeping the temperature higher than he thought. Alternatively, if the hay mulch is deep enough, he may be getting decomposition which is heating the waterer from below. He certainly has plenty of hay bales as insulation around him in the video. Using a composting deep mulch system under the hens would be a more reliable way to keep the water from freezing than using a brine bottle from our experience.
 
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That's pretty awesome -- the bottle of brine acts as a cold-sink, continually giving up calories that keep the energy state of the drinking water higher than it otherwise would be. Trace, I hope you report back how it works and how it changes your water-swapping schedule when things get chilly.
 
Trace Oswald
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Jay Angler wrote:My physics expert on freezing temperatures and salt water says this won't work:
1. Yes, salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water - we live by the ocean and we use brine bottles to fast freeze our chickens when we process them, so we've had experience in that area.
2. However, the chickens aren't drinking the salt water - they're drinking the surrounding fresh water.
3. Water is an energy hog - if the bottle of salt water is put in at "lukewarm", it will release it's energy to the surrounding fresh water which will slow down the speed at which the fresh water freezes. This is why "electric water bowl heaters" exist for farm animals. However, once the heat is gone, the water will start freezing usually by crystalizing at the edges. As the fresh water "changes phase" from liquid to solid, this releases a lot of energy which will slow the rest of the water from freezing, but given time, it will freeze.
4. If we're expecting below freezing weather, we will take jugs of hot water to the chickens and substitute it for the already starting to freeze water in their buckets at bedtime. This will slow the process, and hopefully there will still be a few pockets of unfrozen water in the morning and that the chickens can peck through the icy surface to get to them.
5. Although we use the type of waterer shown in the video for some of our birds in the warm months, in the winter we use a rubber bucket as these aren't damaged by freezing and are easier to get the ice out of.

Possibly for the fellow in the video, the density of chickens in the hen house were keeping the temperature higher than he thought. Alternatively, if the hay mulch is deep enough, he may be getting decomposition which is heating the waterer from below. He certainly has plenty of hay bales as insulation around him in the video. Using a composting deep mulch system under the hens would be a more reliable way to keep the water from freezing than using a brine bottle from our experience.



1. No argument there, salt water definitely freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water.
2. Yes
3. No question about this either.  If you put anything in the waterer that is warmer than the water, the water will draw the heat from it and eventually it will freeze.
4. That's what I do now, but our waterers freeze solid as a rock in winter here.  Our temperatures get much, much colder than yours do.  Every morning I bring in the frozen waterer to thaw, and take out a different one with warmer water in it.  By the time I am home from work, it will be frozen solid again.
5.  A good idea.  Do you have to do something to keep the chickens from getting in the bowl?  Or they just stay out of it?

I agree that it is probably warmer than he thinks in the coop.  A better test would be to put identical waterers in the coop, one with the salt water bottle in it and one without and see if they freeze at the same time.  I'm not convinced it does much, but if it slows the freezing down by an hour or two, that is an hour or two more time they have to drink before the water is a solid block again.

I use a deep mulch system myself, but it is far too cold here for any composting to take place in the winter.  That would probably work in places like the PNW, but here, nothing composts in the winter, and even if it weren't so cold, it's so dry here that there is no moisture to allow for composting either.  This climate just doesn't lend itself to easy answers to this question :)  I've had the best luck so far by connecting a long hoop house covered in clear plastic to the chicken coop.  It warms quickly in the sun and keeps the temp high enough  that the water stays liquid quite a bit longer.  I can open and close the end on it to varying degrees so it doesn't get too warm.  Just barely above 20 F or so is what I am shooting for.  It takes quite a while for the water to freeze at that temperature and it isn't warm enough that the chickens experience huge temperatures swings from day to night.  The hoop house keeps it a little warmer, but mainly it blocks the ultra-cold winds we get in the winter.
 
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Christopher Weeks wrote:That's pretty awesome -- the bottle of brine acts as a cold-sink, continually giving up calories that keep the energy state of the drinking water higher than it otherwise would be. Trace, I hope you report back how it works and how it changes your water-swapping schedule when things get chilly.



Will do.  I have multiple identical waterers so I'll try two of the same side by side and see how much difference it makes, if any.
 
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Trace Oswald wrote:5.  A good idea.  Do you have to do something to keep the chickens from getting in the bowl?  Or they just stay out of it?


We use these from Princess Auto - I don't know a US equivalent:

webpage

They've stood up *really* well - even from our geese who seem to love to chew on inedible things at times! They're a small enough diameter that the Khakis don't jump right in, and we've had the odd chicken sit on the edge and poop in them, but not constantly. However, we prefer to be able to hook the handle over something so they can't tip the whole bucket over - more an issue once it's half empty than when it's full. Hubby's industrial layer birds are 20 birds to a shelter when we start a new flock, and they get two of these buckets, and can easily go 2 days in moderate weather with that. We check them daily, but I'm a firm believer in having "back-up" infrastructure!
 
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If one could come up with a way to insulate the sides and most of the top of the bucket, that would slow down how quickly warm water would cool and freeze. The problem is that I can't think of a good way to do that without making a mite/lice haven, a microbe collection point, or it be something the chickens would peck at and eat. I tried a scrap of styrofoam on top once, but apparently, chickens like styrofoam... I do *not* like my chickens eating it, even if they do like it!

If I was as cold a climate as Trace is describing, I'd be considering 2 layers of pond-quality EDPM with insulation in between and the special EDPM glue/tape to seal the two layers together.

Or maybe consider a wooden box like is used for a bucket toilet, partly insulated and with a partial cut-out large enough for generous space for a chicken's head? If you've got a rooster, make it even bigger for their comb? Either have the top hinged, or simply lift the whole box off to retrieve the bucket, if the box isn't too heavy. It would be hard to justify the effort with my climate, however, it would also solve the problem of buckets being tipped over!
 
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Jay Angler wrote:If one could come up with a way to insulate the sides and most of the top of the bucket, that would slow down how quickly warm water would cool and freeze. The problem is that I can't think of a good way to do that without making a mite/lice haven, a microbe collection point, or it be something the chickens would peck at and eat. I tried a scrap of styrofoam on top once, but apparently, chickens like styrofoam... I do *not* like my chickens eating it, even if they do like it!

If I was as cold a climate as Trace is describing, I'd be considering 2 layers of pond-quality EDPM with insulation in between and the special EDPM glue/tape to seal the two layers together.

Or maybe consider a wooden box like is used for a bucket toilet, partly insulated and with a partial cut-out large enough for generous space for a chicken's head? If you've got a rooster, make it even bigger for their comb? Either have the top hinged, or simple lift the whole box off to retrieve the bucket, if the box isn't too heavy. It would be hard to justify the effort with my climate, however, it would also solve the problem of buckets being tipped over!


It would be great if the manufacturer made this with skinned microfoamed walls.  Would save them money on plastic, lighten the product and make it more insulative without much loss of strength....too bad they didn't!
 
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Greg Martin wrote:It would be great if the manufacturer made this with skinned microfoamed walls.  Would save them money on plastic, lighten the product and make it more insulative without much loss of strength....too bad they didn't!

Maybe they do - sort of. Picture the product below with the lid unscrewed so the chickens can drink from the top!

It might be best to remove the spigot and replace it with a simple plug. The concept might still not be good enough for Trace as I'm not sure the product has enough flexibility or is the right shape to cope with freezing solid. As much as I adore water, it's annoying habit of expanding when it freezes can give me grief!
insulated-water-jug-for-chickens.jpg
[Thumbnail for insulated-water-jug-for-chickens.jpg]
 
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This post seems to be all about passive methods to keep the water from freezing. I like the greenhouse idea myself, and that is what I have used in the past. Still, there were some times stuff froze for me, even in the greenhouse.

I am a fan of the poultry nipple waterers to keep things cleaner. If you have electricity at the coop (or could get it), I know they have plug in waterers ready made. I was thinking of making one out of some 4" PVC with fittings to get down to the poultry nipple waterers. A 4" pipe should hold a decent amount of water, and I can bring each side up to make a "U" shape for extra storage if needed. Then I was planning to experiment with fish tank warmers, heat tape for pipes, and the soil heating wires. To see which works best. Has anyone ever tried something like this?
 
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I heard recently from a horse person that uses the salt water in a bottle trick for the horse trough. The reason they said they believed it worked was the horses could come over and move the bottle around, thus breaking up any ice that had started forming on the surface. Much more mechanical of a reason and any type of floating bobber would work in that case, you don't really need the salt water for it to work.
 
Matt McSpadden
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I recently found that bird-bath heaters are an inexpensive and built-for-the-situation solution to helping to keep the water thawed if you have electricity. I built something for my mom's coop. Put in the bird bath heater and the stuff in the bucket stayed thawed down to 8F at least. It hasn't been colder yet.

What did not work, was the little cups that come out of the side. She wanted those, because she said the chickens spilled too much on the floor with the nipple style. The cups freeze fairly often. They will thaw pretty quickly once the temps come up in the 20s... but there was not enough heat to thaw the water on the outside of the bucket.

**Edit - just fixing a typo.
 
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