Can chickens drink rainwater?

Do you give your chickens rainwater in their water containers? I do. It started about 8 years ago out of laziness, but I soon realized that giving my chickens rainwater was actually good for them! Plus I can harvest the rainwater close to the coop so it saves me from hauling water a long distance.

Every drop of water we drink has fallen from the sky at some point and many parts of the world do nothing at all to treat the water before using it. Here in the states we clean, purify, chlorinate, soften and generally 'treat' the water in many ways before using it for human consumption. 

Is this necessary for animals though? Not really. In fact, some of those chemicals can be harmful to animals in large doses.

Think of this....water that falls from the sky is soft water. As it works its way through the ground and waterways it picks up chemicals making it hard water. We then use more chemicals to remove those ones and make it back into soft water. 

Not only is that just a little bit crazy, but we pay for that! By watering my chickens through rainwater collection I just cut out that middle system.

Now I'm not saying not to give your chickens tap water, just pointing out that not only is it cheaper to give them rainwater but it's practically the same exact thing! Plus if your coop is nowhere near the house, then harvesting rainwater off the coop roof for the chickens to drink means less buckets of water to haul over.

Collecting rainwater for chickens

I collect water in a very simple way: a bucket under a downspout or runoff area of the roof. I only collect water off tin or plastic coop roofs, not the house roof since it's covered with shingles. (shingles can contain all kinds of chemicals that might leach into the water) 

Make sure you take a look at the roof every few days and clean debris from the gutters. If the water is looking discolored then you may need to clean out your gutters. Dried leaves will discolor the water to a light brown or rust color.

High levels of tannins can be toxic to animals so you don't want the water you collect for your chickens being filtered through dried leaves first! There are multiple oak and chestnut trees are in my area and the leaves are high in tannins so that's something I watch out for. 

All tree leaves, branches and bark contain tannins, though some have more than others so check your local tree species. 

Always make sure your water is fresh and clean before giving it to the chickens. Take a peek at the water and a quick sniff before using it. If it's at all funky then use it on the garden instead. 

I know chickens will drink out of muddy puddles with who knows what in them if given the chance but, I will not provide that kind of water as their water source. 

I don't do long term water storage, but I have seen some amazing systems that are completely hands off from collecting the water to filling the water containers. Prepare to be impressed by this whole farm watering system and this 'from the roof to the chickens' water system. I need that second one!

I have used the large food buckets with lids to store rainwater during a particularly rainy few days. Simply pop the lid on when full and move out of the light to prevent algae build up. I store them in my garage. I've also just set out large Rubbermaid tubs in the rain when we're expecting a downpour then transferred the water to a bucket for storage. 

Not all roofs collect the same amount of rainwater. Some of my coops are under trees and they get much less rainfall on them. I just use smaller buckets for these coops. Those coops are not as good for collecting water to save, but they usually provide enough for that coop.

Make sure you scrub out the buckets periodically. Plastic buckets are susceptible to the same bacteria and slime build up we talked about in How often should you clean your chickens waterer?

The biggest problem I have had so far is forgetting to empty the buckets before the temperature drops in early winter. Cheap buckets and even the large food buckets will expand and split when they freeze. The plastic is too hard and just won't give enough without cracking. 

The black rubber tubs and buckets do really well in cold weather though.

The other tiny problem I've had is the ducks. They seriously mess up any water source so if your ducks free range (like mine do) you'll have to either have a bucket too tall for them to get into or build it a platform so they can't reach in.

Is it legal to collect rainwater for chickens?

Legalities...there is no place in the United States (that I know of) that you can't put a bucket out to collect rainwater. Now it is possible these places exist, but I've spent hours reading state laws and ordinances and can't find any. 

The one most people quote was actually about diverting an entire stream... I'm sure you can see the difference. 

That being said, you should look into your local laws if you're planning a large water collection and storage system as those are sometimes regulated. There is a huge difference between 5 gallon buckets and multiple 55 gallon drums!

We replaced our original gutter to one twice it's size but we're still just collecting water falling onto our property, which is fine! 

It might not be for everyone, but collecting rainwater for the chickens works great for us. We have a well and our drinking water goes through a lot of treatment before we can use it. It's nice to be able to provide my chickens with fresh, clean water without all that processing.  


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