I’m sure you’ve heard about various hacks to stop the water in your chicken bucket or waterer freezing at temperature drops.
Ping pong balls, heat tape, bird table water heaters, heated pet bowls… they all work to some extent.
But how about putting a salt water bottle in your chickens’ waterer, does that stop water freezing?
This is something I’ve heard about for as long as I can remember. Somewhat like an old wives tale.
Yet, spoiler alert, it really doesn’t work.
At least, not in the way you’re probably thinking. Placing a plastic bottle full of salt water in a larger water bucket doesn’t stop water freezing due to simply being a bottle with salt water in.
I know that doesn’t make complete sense, I can explain!
Will a Salt Water Bottle in a Chicken Waterer Stop Water From Freezing?
As I mentioned in the opening comments, putting a bottle of saltwater in your chickens’ waterer or any bucket of water is not going to stop the water from freezing.
At least, not by simply being in the water. I know why some people think it does work, it’s because salt water has a much lower freezing point than freshwater.
Freshwater freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees celsius. The ocean, which is saltwater freezes at around 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or -2 degrees celsius. It depends on how much salt is in water, but it clearly lowers the freezing point.
So, that means that the water inside the plastic bottle might not freeze. But that doesn’t help the water that your chickens are going to be drinking.
You can’t add salt to the water your chickens will drink, it’s bad for them and can cause some serious health issues.
If you want to see an experiment, here is a video from Humble Little Homestead. She tested three buckets of water; 1 didn’t have a saltwater bottle in, the others had saltwater bottles with different amounts of salt.
As you’ll see, all three buckets froze over when temperatures dropped to 20-22 degrees Fahrenheit overnight:
Related - Can Chickens Freeze to Death?
It's a Different Story if Your Salt Bottle Floats
While reading about this little hack to stop water freezing, I’ve never read someone say this explicitly, but I’m wondering if the idea is to let the plastic bottle float.
I say this because putting ping pong balls in water buckets is another age-old trick. This only works because wind - or chickens - will keep the balls from sitting still long enough for solid ice to form across the entire surface.
I’ve used ping pong balls in waterers and ponds over the years. It’s pretty hit or miss, to be honest. It’s also only effective when the temperature dips a little below freezing in my opinion.
If you were to make sure your saltwater bottle was floating, I can see that having a similar effect. But then that raises the question, do you really need to half fill it with salt and water?
How Do You Keep Chicken Water From Freezing Without Electricity?
If you’re looking for ways to keep chicken water from freezing without electricity, I’d say the best ways are to use ping pong balls as discussed, and not use a metal waterer.
Traditional waterers are metal because they last longer and are easier to clean. Unfortunately, metal waterers will also get colder quicker as it’s a good thermal conductor.
This means metal transfers heat to colder objects and absorbs warmth from warmer objects. At least, a lot more than plastic, rubber, and some other materials.
I’m sure you’re aware of this just from touching metal when it’s cold out, right?
Outside of placing the water in the warmest possible spot, without electricity, you don’t have a lot of other options.
Related - Is it ok for chickens to drink rain water?
What Is the Best Way to Stop Your Chicken's Water From Freezing?
If you have a reliable source of electricity, there is no doubt that a heated waterer is the best way to stop water from freezing.
There are various products and ways you can go about this. Heated bases are commonly used to warm metal waterers. Heated dog bowls are also a common solution when temperatures are dropping.
If you want to replace their waterer with a heated one for convenience, I recommend checking out this heated plastic chicken waterer available on Amazon:
It looks and operates the same as a regular waterer. You can hang it, too, which is always a better way to provide fresh drinking water for chickens.
It operates on a 100-watt heater, and you can set the thermostat to come on at whatever temperature you want. It’s nice and economical, and it's a sure way to make sure your chickens’ water isn’t going to freeze.
There you have it, I don’t recommend throwing a plastic bottle filled with water and a cup of salt into your chickens’ waterer and assuming it’ll stop the water from freezing.
Unless the bottle is floating and moving around, it’s not going to make much of a difference, if any. If you’re looking for ways to stop your chickens’ water from freezing, there are much better solutions that do work.
Image credits - Photo by Tobias Mockenhaupt on Unsplash
Does saltwater have a lower freezing point? - National Ocean Service