Clean Water: Ensuring Optimal Hydration for Happy Chickens

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Video poultry nipple waterer

Chickens, like all living beings, require clean water to thrive. Access to fresh water is crucial for their health and egg production. In fact, even a few hours without water can halt egg production for weeks. But why is water so important for chickens? Let’s explore the advantages of using poultry nipple waterers to provide clean water to our feathered friends.

Water: The Life Force of Chickens

Water is not only essential for our own well-being but also for chickens. It is involved in every aspect of their metabolism, playing vital roles in regulating body temperature, digesting food, and eliminating waste. In fact, poultry consume at least twice as much water as they consume feed. During periods of heat stress, their water consumption will double or even quadruple.

The Essence of Hydration

Water is often overlooked as a nutrient, but it is unquestionably the most essential one. It constitutes about 70% of a chicken’s total body weight. Access to water is crucial, and even a few hours without it can lead to a decline in egg production. Chickens are more sensitive to a lack of water than a lack of food.

Chick Nipple Drinker
Chick Nipple Drinker available at Ames Farm Center.

The Role of Water in Digestion

Water in the crop softens the feed, allowing for proper digestion. Without water, dry feed clumps can form in the crop, putting pressure on the bird’s carotid artery and reducing blood flow to the brain. This can lead to paralysis and even death. Due to the unique anatomy of poultry, they rely on gravity to draw water into their crops.

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The Water-Feed Connection

Water and food consumption rates in chickens are interconnected. Reduced water intake can lead to reduced food intake as well. Various factors influence a chicken’s water intake, with temperature being the most obvious one. For instance, chickens drink 30-50% more water when the environmental temperature exceeds 32°C compared to when it is 21°C. The type of drinkers used also affects water intake, with the general rule being that water intake is usually 1.5 to 2 times feed intake.

Poultry Nipple Waterers: The Best Solution

When it comes to ensuring a consistent supply of clean water for chickens, poultry nipple waterers have proven to be the most effective and efficient option. Dr. Mike Petrik, a renowned chicken veterinarian in Canada, speaks highly of poultry nipple drinkers:

“NOBODY who is raising chickens professionally has used cups, bell drinkers, or troughs in the past 25 years…nipples have been used successfully on literally billions of chickens. The professional farmers across North America have made nipple drinkers the standard for all chickens and many turkeys. In fact, as a vet, I recommend that everyone raising hens change from open water sources to nipple drinkers. The hens get plenty of water, and the disease reduction is so striking that there is no doubt which is better.”

Research supports the preference for poultry nipple drinkers among chickens. A study published in the scientific journal “Animal Welfare” compared broiler chickens’ preferences in different water sources and found that chickens readily accepted nipple drinkers. The study indicated that birds preferred nipple drinkers placed at a comfortable and convenient height. Another research paper from the Journal of Zoomorphology illustrated that hens developed different drinking behaviors based on the water source. Drinking droplets from nipple drinkers or scooping water from open drinkers were both natural for the birds.

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Chick Nipple Drinker
3-gallon, heated poultry nipple drinker available at Ames Farm Center.

Poultry nipple waterers offer numerous advantages, including resistance to bacterial growth and providing a consistent supply of clean water. If practical, backyard chicken keepers are strongly recommended to consider using a nipple watering system for their hens.


  • Q: I have both large fowl and bantam breeds. Will both be able to access the water?

    • A: Birds of different heights can all use nipple drinkers. You can position some bricks or a block of wood under a few drippers to allow smaller birds to reach them easily.
  • Q: How many chickens per nipple?

    • A: It is recommended to have a maximum of 3 or 4 birds per nipple. The estimate allows for variations since chickens do not all drink at the same time.

Training baby chicks to use a poultry nipple drinker
Training baby chicks to use a poultry nipple drinker.

Poultry Nipple Waterer Training

Chickens, being prey animals, are naturally cautious about change. Some may require training to become familiar with a new poultry nipple drinker system. While some flocks may readily accept nipple drinkers, others may need a little more convincing. Patience and consistency are key.

During the training process, it is crucial that chickens have no access to any other water source. To facilitate training, you can confine free-range chickens to their run. Introducing a nipple drinker should be done in temperate weather, as extreme temperatures can affect their ability to adapt. It can be helpful to attach a rubber band around one nipple to create a stream of dripping water that attracts the chickens’ attention. Once they learn that cool water is dispensed from the nipples, the rubber band can be removed.

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Chickens using a poultry nipple drinker
Chickens using a poultry nipple drinker.

Sometimes, tapping the stainless steel pin with your finger and allowing water to drip out is enough to pique their curiosity. Once one bird figures out the system, others often follow suit. For less adventurous birds, gently tapping their beak on the stainless steel pin and allowing a droplet of water to touch them can help them understand the source of water. Remember to keep all other water sources inaccessible during training.

Regardless of the drinking system used, chickens may still exhibit their peculiar behavior of opting to drink from alternative sources like hoses or puddles. However, this does not indicate a lack of access to water. Chickens are healthier when their water and drinking vessel are clean throughout the day. By using poultry nipple drinkers, backyard chicken keepers can ensure a consistently clean water supply for their flock.

To delve deeper into this topic, you may refer to the following sources for citations and further reading:

  • Welfare implications of nipple drinkers for broiler chickens, E Houldcroft, C Smith, R Mrowicki, L Headland, S Grieveson, TA Jones, and MS Dawkins (2008).
  • Flexibility of the drinking mechanism in adult chickens (Gallus gallus) (Aves), J. Heidwaller, J.A. van Loon, and G.A. Zweers (1992).

Remember, clean water is essential for healthy and thriving chickens. Consider investing in poultry nipple waterers to provide your flock with a consistent supply of fresh water. Your chickens will thank you for it!