Basic Care for Your Flock: Water and Welfare

Over the last few months, we have been exploring the FLAWS, which are the factors that can define the performance or lack thereof in your backyard flock. The easiest way to help your flock succeed is to cover your FLAWS. To continue through these cold winter months, we will discuss Water and Welfare. Here are some considerations for each of these components.

WATER: We all know every animal needs water to survive, and your backyard flock is no different. The key is to make sure they get enough and that it is clean and fresh. Water consumption varies greatly depending on the size of each bird, the season, and the outdoor temperature. In addition, broilers need a lot more water than layers. If you watch your flock, you’ll notice birds do not drink large quantities of water at a time; instead, they take many smaller drinks, meaning they need water available at all times. Consistent access to clean, fresh water can help your flock optimize eating, growing, and laying. If you live in a place with winter weather, you will need to be a little more vigilant with the flock’s water to ensure their supply is replaced when it freezes. Some waterers have built-in heaters to help with this. And for those who keep flocks where the climate is hotter, you will want to make sure to keep the water cooler, which most birds prefer, so you may need to replace it more in the hottest months. Also keeping water cold is better to help avoid bacterial growth.

It’s up to you what kind of watering system you choose – there are a number of options available for purchase or plans for DIY. Regardless of your system of choice, you need to clean it regularly. In addition to a regular cleaning, periodically using a diluted bleach solution with a thorough rinse can keep unwanted algae and bacteria from taking hold. Using a dark-colored waterer can help reduce algal growth too. If you decide to change watering systems at any point, be sure to keep the old one available until you see everyone is accustomed to the new one.

A final factor to consider related to water for your flock is water quality, namely water hardness and pH. Water can be hard or soft; hard water contains a lot of calcium and magnesium ions while soft water is laden with sodium ions. Generally, hard water has a lower pH, meaning it is more acidic. Although hard water has not been shown to have an adverse effect on flock performance, poultry prefer water with a pH that is only slightly acidic (6.0-6.8) and can tolerate a pH range of 4 to 8. If you choose to treat your water, you need to be aware of what you are treating with to ensure it will be safe for your flock. No matter how you treat your water, it will require extra maintenance and testing to ensure you get the water its healthiest and keep it that way. Since every water system is different, the key is to know your own. If you would drink your water, then it’s fine for your birds to drink. And vice versa.

WELFARE: A healthy flock is easy to identify – each bird is strong, confident, and alert. Following the guidelines, we have outlined in this and previous articles will help ensure you are treating your flock humanely and addressing the birds’ needs. Regardless of the breed(s) you raise, there are some characteristics that are common to any healthy flock. Healthy birds of laying age produce eggs with strong shells and dark, golden yolks. The shells crack in crisp, clean lines, and the yolks are not pale. In addition, healthy birds lay eggs on a consistent basis. There may be fluctuations with changing weather conditions, but healthy birds adjust to the weather and continue to produce eggs reliably. Healthy birds have shiny feathers and bright, colorful combs. Just like us, a healthy chicken is a good-looking chicken with vibrant feathers. When hens are laying, their combs and wattles get larger and darker red, and when they stop laying, their combs and wattles get smaller and lighter red or pink. This color change should be a regular occurrence. Finally, healthy chickens are energetic: exploring their space, socializing with other members of the flock, and just generally enjoying life.

See you next month when we wrap up our discussion of the FLAWS by exploring Safety, Space, and Supplements.
Assistance with this article was provided by Dr. Corissa Robinson, Best Veterinary Solutions, Inc.