Solar winter waterer

Keeping the birds supplied with fresh water in the winter has always been a problem. In past years I’ve only had chickens, so I didn’t need all that much water. I tried putting various pond and tank heaters into a hanging bucket, but those heaters inevitably broke after about a month. Besides, it made me really nervous to daisy chain extension cords out to the coop for the electricity they required.

I’ve also tried passive solar before, kind of half-assedly, by clamping a sheet of glass over the top of their black rubber bucket with only a small opening to be drunk from. It wasn’t nearly warm enough – still froze solid. I usually ended up bringing out a gallon of hot water to them once or twice a day. I’d just kick the block of ice out of their  rubber bucket (those flexible bucket troughs are the best thing EVER), refill, and repeat. This was tedious but it worked out ok.

But ducks…. have I mentioned ducks are gross? They make a HUGE mess every time they drink – more water is splashed onto the floor than actually makes it into their mouths. They need a larger water dish so they can submerge their entire beak. They’d empty out a trough the size of the chickens’ in about five minutes. Not to mention try to get in it and flop around and play…and poop. I’d love to use my current poop-and-play-prevention system of a raised dish with a float valve, but all those little hoses and valves are definitely going to freeze absolutely solid. I’ve been really preoccupied with how I’m going to keep them watered this winter, which I’ve heard might be an especially cold one.

But then I remembered that I’d spent all summer studying plans for solar dehydrators. Those things get very hot inside, at least during the summer. You can get as complicated as you want with dehydrators, but in the end they all depend on a sloped piece of glass like this solar wax melter I’d seen this summer:


I even had a few of the materials on hand, like some gifted storm windows and boards from a salvaged old cabinet. Hm, I thought….


I toyed with the idea of using a rubbermaid tub as the reservoir, but I didn’t want to spend a whole bunch of money on lumber & new materials without knowing if the system works. The boards from my old cabinet happened to be exactly the right dimensions to fit two 5 gallon buckets side by side, so I’ll start there instead.


I’ll plumb them together at the bottoms so they act like one ten-gallon bucket. I plan to cover the tops with glass or clear plastic as a secondary solar collector inside the solar collector.

Once those are set up I’ll attach my float-valve trough in there as well, set about six inches back with just the tip poking out enough for a duck to get its head in for a drink. Hopefully the solar heat inside the box will be enough to keep its little valves and hoses from freezing, providing liquid water all winter long.

Will it work? I don’t know. But I’m really hopeful! I know winter watering is a problem a lot of people are trying to figure out, and I’m hopeful that I may have finally found a solution.


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