Chickens need three basic requirements to remain healthy - adequate shelter, nutritious food and clean water. Most chicken owners instinctively understand the importance of the first two and take care to provide a good coop and quality feed. However, clean water can sometimes be overlooked; this is unfortunate because water plays an important role in both a chicken’s health and in their ability to lay eggs.
Why Water Matters
Chickens are particular dependent on water because of the types of foods they consume and their digestive processes. Poultry foods such as crumbles, pellets and scratch contain relatively little moisture as compared to those foods consumed by humans. To properly digest this food, a chicken needs water to soften first soften their food and then to help them break it down into usable nutrients that can be absorbed in the chicken’s digestive tract.
In addition, water plays a critical role in regulating a chicken’s body temperature. Unlike humans who sweat when hot, chickens lower their body temperature by panting. The process works by driving off body heat in the form of water vapor. When panting, the chicken inhales cool air into its respiratory system. Heat that would otherwise be making the chicken’s body warm is instead used to convert water into water vapor that the chicken then exhales in its breath. This drives off excess body heat and helps keep the chicken cool. During the summer, it is particularly important to provide ample water so that chicken’s can properly regulate their temperature in this way. If chickens don’t get enough water they can become stressed and stop laying eggs. Under more extreme conditions, chickens can get heat stroke and die.
Finally, and most importantly to backyard poultry keepers, hens need plentiful water to lay eggs. Water constitutes 74% of the weight of an egg. That means that a chicken laying a 2-ounce egg needs 1.5 ounces of water just for that one egg.
Total Chicken Water Requirements
Given a hens and unique digestive and respiratory requirement and that they lay eggs that are mostly water, it should come as no surprise that chickens need lots of water to remain healthy and laying. In fact, chickens needs to consume two to three more water as a humans on a relative basis.
The general guideline is that a laying hen should be given 8 ounces (.5 pounds) of water per day. That represents approximately 8% of bodyweight for a typical 6.5-pound bird. For perspective, humans are advised to drink between two and three quarts of water every day (4-6 pounds), or just 4% of a typical adult’s body weight.
Tips For Providing Water
- Change the water every day.
- If using well water, test the water quality to make sure that it meets the standard for acceptable drinking water for humans.
- Provide the sufficient quantity –your chickens will drink more or less depending on their age and the outside temperature. However, the rule of thumb is 8 ounces of water per day per bird, or about 1/2 gallon for every 8 birds in your flock.
- Make sure that your watering device is free from dirt, debris and droppings as these can discourage your birds from drinking, or even make them sick.
- During the summer, provide cool tap water or add some ice cubes to lower the temperature. Research indicates that chickens given water that is below their body temperature produce greater quantities of eggs.
- Clean and sanitize your watering device regularly to prevent bacteria from building up in the waterer.