Keeping our birds' water from freezing is a difficult job for most chicken keepers. Especially if you live in cold climates, this may turn into an arduous task of replacing the water at least once, sometimes multiple times, a day in winter months. If you have a busy day-time job or are traveling a lot, this chore may start to make chicken keeping a difficult endeavor.
Actually, there are many setups that aim to automate this task, some of them being DIY solutions and some commercial. Here I would like to share a solution that works for me and has multiple benefits. I live in a region which can be classified to be Zone 6/7 in central Turkey. We occasionally see winter temperatures that fall below 0F although 20 - 32F range is more common. I've been using this system for about two years now and only once my water froze . If you live in places like Alaska or in case of extreme cold times this may not work, but if your climate is cold but not deadly it may just be a good solution for you as well. It also has the benefit of keeping your chickens' water nice and clean so I use it even during the hot times.
The idea is based on circulating the water within a bucket so that the motion of the water prevents it from freezing. Furthermore, if you bury the bucket halfway into the ground, you get insulation from the ground itself. If necessary you can augment this system with a bird-bath heater to further reduce the risk of frost. Now let's get into the details and see some pictures.
In the picture below, you can see all of the pieces of my system:
Here are the pictures of each piece with short descriptions. First the bucket itself. Choose the size of the bucket based on your watering requirements. Mine is about 5 gallons.
Next is the lid. Note that it is cut in the front and in the back. The large cut is used to insert the cup from which the chickens will drink. The small cut is used to pass the hose and the cable of the pump:
You can see these pieces in this picture:
The cup itself can be of any size as long as chickens can get their beaks into it. Mine is about 15-20 oz. Note the hole that I punched in the back side of the cup:
The water in the cup will fill up to this hole and then flow back into the bucket. The aquarium pump in the bucket will send the water back to the cup. The hole determines the water level that you will see in the cup. The nice thing about this design is that even if you lose electricity temporarily your chickens will not be out of water. They can continue to drink from the cup, the level of the water will decrease, but when the electricity comes back up it will automatically fill to the same level. Make sure to test your system in a safe place before putting it in your run. The size of the hole must be large enough so that the upflow is not bigger than the downflow. Your cup will overflow otherwise.
Below is a final picture of the system in place. Note that I use a small-clamp to make sure that the hose remains in place.
I've been using this system for almost two years now and despite having pretty cold winters, it never froze (well-except once). And even then the water was still circulating but there was a thin layer of ice at the top. I'm sure it would have melted on its own even if I did not intervene.
If you live in a much colder climate you can make some adjustments to make it more resistant to frost. First of all you can use a larger bucket and bury it deeper into the ground. Secondly you can use a bird-bath heater which will nudge up the temperatures a few degrees and together with the water circulation the risk of frost will be reduced. Third, you can always buy a stronger pump for faster water circulation. The faster the water moves the more resistant it will be to frost. The pump that I is a 7W, 100gallon/hour pump (picture below):
Finally, I use this system with a timer so that when the temperatures are not very low it does not run all the time. In spring or summer, I set the timer so that it stops at night and works during the day to keep the chickens' water fresh. Indeed, as still water harbors diseases, having a continuously running water, which is filtered by an aquarium pump has multiple benefits. I hope you find this article useful for you as well. You can setup such a system in less than an hour assuming that your materials are ready.