Clean, fresh water is the single most important thing you can provide your chickens for their health and welfare. Important in the summer of course, a constant water supply is also equally important during the cold months.
In the winter, care must be taken to ensure that the water doesn't freeze, and warm water on a cold day is always appreciated. In the summer, ice cubes added to the water are equally appreciated.
Laying hens drink more water than roosters and non laying hens. An egg is made up of up to 85% water, with water being drawn from the hen's body, so she needs to replenish that water on a daily basis, as well as drink enough to sustain her needs.
A rough estimate is that each hen will drink 16 ounces of water per day as a bare minimum. Water should be provided at all times during the day. At night, its your choice. I don't leave any feed or water in the coop as a general rule, although I do leave water in the coop in the summer on the hottest nights.
Since we also have ducks, we not only can't use the traditional chicken waterers because they aren't deep enough, we also have to accept that the water tubs will always be full of mud and feed. Oddly enough, the chickens don't seem to mind a little dirt or feed in the water and it certainly isn't going to hurt them. (Fecal matter is another story however.)
I think I've tried every type of waterer on the market. I had to stop using the metal waterers because I add apple cider vinegar to the water (ratio: 1T ACV/1gal water) a few times a week and the metal waterers always start to rust.
(Note: the apple cider vinegar - raw unfiltered with the 'mother' such as Bragg's - is great for their immune systems, guards against bad bacteria and maintains digestive health in the intestines by regulating the pH levels and is an overal health booster. It increases calcium absorption so your chickens will get more 'bang for the buck' from the eggshells or oyster shell you provide them. ACV aso acts as an antiseptic by killing the germs that cause respiratory problems - which chickens are extremely susceptible to - in the throat. It also helps to keep the water algae-free especially in the summer.)
The plastic waterers crack in the winter. The shallow dishes were working okay for awhile but the ducks mess them up too quickly and also like to stand in them.
I have found the best option for our mixed flock is the large black rubber tubs that are sold at Tractor Supply Company.
They are durable, quick to clean/refill and inexpensive. It's easy to put a block of ice or a frozen water bottle in them in the summer, and if I set them in the sun in the winter, the black rubber absorbs the sun's heat and they seem to stay unfrozen a lot longer than other types of waterers.
In the winter I also plug in an electric heated dog water bowl that works really well.
For this reason I caution against using any type of chicken' nipple' waterer. I have seen several tutorials on making them recently. Originally designed for rabbits and hamsters, the nipple waterers do have the advantage of staying clean thereby alleviating several trips to the run to clean them, but just because they make it easy on you doesn't mean they are best for your flock. They severely limit access to the water, especially to those chickens low in the pecking order. There is a very good chance that you will end up with dehydrated hens if you use them. They also bar the chickens from taking a long satisfying drink or cleaning out their nostrils of caked feed.
No matter how many you put around the run, you will find that your chickens all want to drink from the SAME one at the SAME time (sort of like the nesting box syndrome) and that you run the risk of some not getting enough water. I can't stress enough the importance of the availability of water.
Besides the obvious issues of overheating and dehydrating, going without water for just a few hours can curtail egg production sharply. For this reason, easy access to water for your whole flock is a necessity. I don't believe they get that with the nipple waterers.
Even with the four large rubber tubs I keep filled in the run, I still wanted to provide additional water, especially as the summer is starting to heat up, that I could try and keep clean. That search is what led me to the Farmers Market Hanging Chicken Canteen made by Ware Manufacturing Inc.
Its a great compact size - it holds 16 ounces - and hooks right onto the side of the run. It will attach to chain link, chicken wire, 1" hardware cloth and even 1/2" hardware cloth. It's super convenient to fill, refill or move. It's also great for growing pullets because you can keep raising it as they grow.
The one disadvantage is not being able to add the apple cider vinegar to the water since its galvanized steel, but since these are supplemental waterers anyway and I only add the ACV a couple of times a week, I'm okay with that.
I received my Canteen Waterer yesterday, eagerly filled it with water and positioned it in the run.
I watched as three of my hens immediately clustered around to sip the cool clean water. They refused to hold still for a photo, but my diva Magda was more than willing.
She even offered to demonstrate how easy it is to get a drink.
Others were soon curious and came by to check it out.
At the end of the day, having topped it off a few times, the water was still crystal clear. Voila! A simple solution to clean water for the chickens that the ducks don't seem interested in and the chickens can't kick straw and dirt into. I personally think the chickens prefer the taste of the 'dirt water', but at least now they have a choice.
I highly recommend this waterer. I am going to buy several more to place around the run in the shade and also put one in the coop at night hanging from the vent that's covered with 1/2" hardware cloth.
Amazon.com has the best price I could find for the Canteen Waterers, eligible for free shipping with a minimum $25 order.