Dehydration - A hard lesson learned


7 Years
Apr 14, 2015
Hi All, I am new at raising chickens. My very first group of twenty-two girls just reached one year old. They are all very healthy and happy. I take superb care of them. But unfortunately, today I had a tragedy. Let me tell you my story.
We live in the northeast where the temperatures in the winter get brutally cold. We needed to be sure that the water didn't freeze so for our waterer, we purchased a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot that had a lid and an opening at the top for a hose (we have a outside well pump with the anti freeze valve which works great). We also purchased an Allied precision bucket heater that kicked on when the water dropped to 32 degrees and kicked off when the water reached approximately 45 degrees. We put the hose and the cord from the heater through the hole in the lid, no poop could get inside, and viola, the perfect heated waterer. We installed poultry nipples to the bottom of the bucket. These worked great. We thought we had the answer to our watering problem. Finally, after a long, hard winter, spring came and the weather actually turned hot.
As I do every single day, I went into the coop and pulled the handle on the well pump to top off the water bucket.This was my regular routine and I thought nothing of it. Well, I came home from work today, went out to the coop to check the eggs like I do every day and to say hello to the girls. One of them was lying dead on the floor of the coop. I was so upset. I called my husband at work and told him that I found one of the hens dead on the floor of the coop. The first thing we thought was that they caught a disease or something. I was in a panic. My son came in the door and heard me talking on the phone and went out to the coop to check things out. He called me over and pointed out that under the bucket waterer, where the ground is normally wet, was bone dry. The other chickens were wobbling on their little legs and their eyes were cloudy and looking dry around the edges. He told me that he believes that this could be dehydration. He opened the door to the coop and the remaining twenty-one chickens attempted to run to the pond. They were falling all over themselves and one of them needed to be carried to the pond. They drank for nearly half an hour. They seemed to have perked up and were all feisty again. Let me add that, I normally let them free range but we only have five acres and they started to wander into the neighbors yards and dig at their lawns. We decided to keep them in the coop, which has a large run, instead of letting them free range.
When my husband got home he and my son inspected the bucket. The poultry nipples had failed an were not releasing the water. We can only assume that some corrosion occured on the mechanisms and caused the valves to get stuck. Thanks to my son, this problem was figured out immediately. My husband and I were talking about it and said that we don't even know if we would have noticed that it was dry under the bucket.
Well, we lost only one hen, thank goodness. I felt so horrible. I was apologizing to her. (I know, I sound like a crazy person). My dearest friend called me a couple of hours later to talk and I told her what happened. She made me feel so much better. She said that the hen didn't die in vain but that she was a hero. Her death alerted me that something was wrong and it saved the rest of the flock. My husband and I buried the chicken and my husbands words.."you were a good girl, thank you for your friendship and all of the eggs. We are very sorry." Then he covered her.
So for those of you that use watering nipples and have water that might forms scaling, CHECK YOUR POULTRY NIPPLES. Avoid this tragedy.
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Thank you for sharing your story. That must have been very sad for you. Sometimes people have trouble understanding the responsibility that comes when you confine animals and prevent them from taking care of themselves. I can tell that you take your responsibilities very seriously.

And welcome to BYC
My chicks are still in the brooder though I already have two buckets with poultry nipples set up for them. I'll be checking to make sure they work when it comes time for them to go to the coop. Thank you for your story and sorry for your hen.
It is a very good idea to establish a preventative maintenance plan. Come up with a schedule, put it on your calendar and stick to it. Items on my list:
Clean water bucket: Bi-weekly
Clean feeder bucket: as needed or semi annually (6 mo)
Clean water nipples: quarterly(3 months)
Clean coop of poop: 2/week
Move tractor to new area: every 2-3 days
Inspect coop and run integrity: weekly
Check food and water status(and operation): daily
Thank you for your list. I do all of that on a regular basis except, apparently, cleaning the nipples themselves. When we clean out the bucket, we assumed that the nipples got cleaned too. Maybe using a bristled item such as a tootbrush to try to wedge between the casing of the nipples and the metal valve would be a good idea for those of you using the nipples. We decided we weren't taking any more chances with them. We went to four different feed stores to find the perfect waterer that didn't use vacuum to hold the water in the reservoir. We needed something that had a lid so that we can use the heater in the winter. Tractor Supply had a new type in their inventory that we purchased that evening. It's a five gallon, just like the Home Depot bucket, Harris Farms Easy-Fill Drinker. In order to keep it up off the ground and from getting debris and poop in it, my husband and I built a two step platform for it because we didn't think that the handle would be strong enough to hang it like we did with the nippled bucket. Anyway, thank you for the advice.

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