Chick Eating

How Long Can Chickens Go Without Food

Every species is potentially different in what it needs each day to stay healthy, and how long it can survive when it can’t get enough food or water.  If you’re going to own even one chicken, you need to make sure to know what it needs for optimal health and what it can handle when things go wrong.


How Much Food Does A Chicken Need Per Day?

Chickens have a very high metabolism as they use their calorie intake and hydration for a wide variety of energy demanding bodily functions; from growth to egg laying, digesting food, regulating body temperature, and keeping their immune systems functioning. Regular and plentiful access to food and fresh water is absolutely vital for a chicken’s health and function.

How much your chicken eats per day will greatly depend on a number of factors such as breed, if they are actively laying eggs or growing, and how active they are. A general rough estimate for how much food you should provide is about ¼ pounds of food per fully grown chicken per day. Or, put another way, about 1.5 pounds per chicken per week. 

Most commercial feed comes in 50 pound sacks and is generally fairly cheap, ranging from $10 to $40 per 30-50lb bag. You can find organic food for your chickens at roughly the same prices and quantities. 


How Long Can A Chicken Live Without Food? 

If you leave chickens alone without food for long enough you will find that even a sizable flock has dwindled down to only one or two chickens. This is because chickens naturally turn to cannibalism when their food supply runs out. If you forget to feed them or otherwise leave them for too long without an adequate food source, they will eventually turn on each other for food to survive. 

It’s hard to say how long it will take to push a chicken to this point of food desperation, as a lot of factors will affect that, such as availability of grubs and weeds (seasonal and geographical), temperature, if the chicken is laying eggs, or still growing, and so on.  In the end, the best way to avoid this grisly and undesirable outcome is to ensure that you are providing regular and adequate healthy food for your flock. 

It is fairly difficult to fully deprive a chicken of food to the point of cannibalism unless done so intentionally; chickens are adept at catching flies and other flying insects as well as digging for worms and various other bugs.   Chickens love a variety of naturally found foods, with grubs and weeds being considered tasty treats and will be highly sought after even when they are kept well fed. However, a most pens or enclosures that we keep our flock in will often not be large enough to allow them to get all of their food from natural sources, especially in cold weather and above all, a lack of adequate food and proper nutrition will cause a variety of health problems and interfere with egg laying and long term health.

Simply put, for optimal health you shouldn’t rely on their foraging abilities.  You need to feed your flock in order to make sure they are getting the amount of food and vital nutrients they need to grow, lay eggs, and maintain other necessary biological functions in addition to general health.

Providing your flock with commercial chicken feed as well as feeding them other supplemental foods is particularly necessary during winter when bugs, grubs, flowers and weeds aren’t as available as they are in summer. During summer when these things are abundant and easily found by your chickens, supplementation is less necessary but still a good idea to ensure they are getting balanced nutrition and remove any chance of your chickens turning on each other.

Chickens are also known for eating their own eggs when problems with their nutrition arise, particularly when they are lacking in calcium and other nutrients needed to lay good, strong, fully developed eggs.  Most commercial chicken feed will have a lot of vitamins and minerals added, but you can get chicken specific livestock supplemental products, but chickens also love human foods like potato skins, cheese, cooked and raw fruit and veggies, cooked noodles, beans, cooked rice, dandelion and other greens, among other human food scraps in small amounts, which can supplement their nutrition.


Chickens eating food
Imaged created by Rbreidbrown. CC BY-SA 4.0


How Much Water Does A Chicken Need Per Day?

Like all animals, chickens need water to survive and keep hydrated. Water plays a vital role in a chicken’s digestion. In particular, chicken’s have a muscular pouch, called a Crop, along their digestive tract between their beaks and stomachs that stores eaten food. This is where their food is moistened by the water they drink and starts the digestion process. 

Water also helps ensure that they are able to easily pass waste, which is especially important as chickens are known for eating anything they can manage to fit into their beaks. As with other animals, water helps chickens regulate their body temperature and remain active and healthy when dealing with warmer environments. 

Water is also extremely important for egg formation. Chicken eggs are made up for 70% water and how much access to water the hen has will determine how much and how often she is able to lay. It will also determine how healthy any potential baby chicks will be. 

Chickens that are kept indoors are known to drink roughly between 180 to 250 mls of water every day. Chickens that are kept outdoors are generally going to need about double that amount. Their size, breed, life stage and activities are going to determine just how much water they will need. Broilers or meat chickens tend to grow much faster which contributes to a higher rate of water consumption. For these chickens it’s generally recommended that you give them at least a liter a day. These are general guidelines, different breeds and types of chickens are going to lead to different water requirements. Because of this we highly recommended that you research the breed of chicken you intend to raise and learn what their specific needs are. 

Tips For Watering Chickens:

  • Chickens should always be given water before food to allow their crop to start food digestion.
  • Elevate water containers to ensure that the water stays fresh and clean from dirt contamination for as long as possible while still staying low enough to be easily accessible. Be mindful of the height of water containers for chicks as well so that they can reach them.
  • Provide several water source locations. If you have a flock of chickens it is very likely that one source of water will require constant refilling throughout the day to accommodate all of their needs. With one source, a portion of your flock will likely end up with little to no water as the water is consumed and runs dry. This is especially true in warm weather when their hydration demands rise. In warm weather, you may need to not only keep several water sources available but also regularly refill them throughout the day in order to stay healthy and cool. 
  • Keep their water in a shaded area. This helps keep the water cooler, and therefore the chickens cooler on hot days. It also slows down evaporation so you don’t have to refill their water bowls quite as often. 
  • Keep the water sources in a place that is easily accessible to your chickens but hidden out of site from any other animals that might seek it out, whenever possible.  
  • If you are raising broiler (meat) chickens, due to their increased growth rate, their water demands are substantially more than most other breeds. Because of this you will want to maintain a significant water source inside their coop for quick and easy access, but be careful about too much moisture and not enough ventilation in their coop, in this case.
  • Add a small amount of apple cider vinegar to their water bowls at least once a week. ACV in small amounts can significantly help your bird’s digestion and assists in keeping them healthy and hydrated. 
  • Use a vacuum-sealed galvanized drinker: Getting one of these poultry water dispensers will help provide your flock with regular, clean access to water without you having to worry about how long your chickens can last between their bowls being topped off. There are a variety of them on the market ranging from fairly cheap prices to fairly expensive, but they are definitely worth it on time savings alone, in addition to helping make sure your flock stays healthy.


How Long Can A Chicken Live Without Water? 

Like every living creature, chickens need water in order to survive. How long they can go without water, however, depends on many factors, such as the breed of chicken in question as well as whether they are molting, growing feathers, or laying eggs, their life stage, and so on. The temperature of the environment will also be a significant factor as warm climates will lead to higher water needs, just as it would be for humans.

Healthy chickens are typically able to survive without water for 48 hours. However, if in a warmer climate or if there are other factors at play, this period may be much shorter. If you live in a very warm region where the heat can significantly impact the chickens, they may not be able to go more than 6 to 8 hours without water.

That said, just because an animal can go a period of time without water doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy or safe for them to do so. The longer they go without water, and the higher the heat, mixed with any other potential health issues that may be present, the more health complications may pop up, and sooner.

It’s important to note that not only is access to water vitally important for their overall health, it needs to be fresh water. Chickens are particularly susceptible to various viruses and other ailments, so ensuring that your hens and roosters have regular access to clean, fresh water goes a very long way to ensuring that their immune systems are healthy and working. Viruses and infections can be deadly for chickens (and sometimes contagious), so making sure you are doing everything you can to prevent your chickens from contracting these illnesses is paramount, especially when these microbes can easily be picked up from a stagnant water source.

Also, rainwater can be used as a freshwater source but if it’s going to be stored for any period of time, it does need to be kept in a barrel or lidded container that keeps the water shielded from light. Stagnant puddles which have sat for a long time can be a health risk, but your chickens will generally prefer fresh water from their troughs if it’s well supplied.

Lack Of Water In Hot and Humid Climates:

Especially in hot temperatures, without water chickens will struggle or become incapable of regulating their own body temperatures. This will increase their need for shelter, shade, and increase their risk of heat stroke. 

Heat stroke in chickens, just like in humans, can be deadly. Their susceptibility to heat stroke depends heavily on their breed, as some are naturally better at dealing with warmer climates than others due to where the breed originated from.  You’ll need to keep this in mind when choosing your chicken breeds, depending on your local climate, and how careful you have to be around the hotter parts of the year.

Even when there aren’t deadly consequences from inadequate water and excessive heat, it can have significant health effects, and a severe decrease in egg production.  Chickens that don’t have access to water often go into shock which can cause them to stop laying eggs for up to two weeks at a time even if they fully recover. It can also leave a chicken with a dried out crop, which will cause a halt in digestion as the chicken is no longer able to moisten the food that it eats. 

Adding ice to their water during hot days can go a long way towards keeping your chickens drinking and staying adequately cool and hydrated. If the water is too warm, chickens are likely to drink less than they may need.


Lack Of Water In Cold Climates:

As temperatures drop during the wet season and puddles and water troughs alike are susceptible to freezing, chickens again risk dehydration. Chickens can be quite hardy when dealing with cool weather; they have feathers to help keep them warm and are usually, depending on the breed, able to weather the cold fairly well. When it comes to dealing with a lack of water, chickens in cooler climates fare a little better than those in hot climates due to lower water needs, but snow and ice can be still harmful to chickens long term, with cold temperatures having the potential to be just as detrimental to your chickens as hot temperatures can. 

A healthy chicken can last up to two days stuck in a snowed-in coop by pecking at the snow. This is typically done out of desperation and will cause stress on the chicken’s system. Cockerels and hens that aren’t laying, molting, or regrowing feathers will fare better for longer without water due to lower energy demands. You should never let your chickens get to this point.  Keeping them warm enough, and with enough drinkable (unfrozen) water, is vital.

Lack Of Water For Baby Chicks:

Newly hatched chicks can use their yolk for nutrition and hydration for up to three days. But once that 72 hours are up they require constant access to fresh water to survive. Baby chicks cannot go more than six hours without access to water or they will quickly perish. Baby chicks rely heavily on small, frequent sips of water in order to regulate their body temperatures (something important when they are kept in a warm environment by their brooder) as well as other normal bodily functions. There is no leeway here.

What Should You Do If Your Chickens Have Gone Without Water:

The most important thing you can do is prevent dehydration in the first place, but If you realize that your chickens have been left without water (or food) for any amount of time, you will want to immediately provide them with clean, fresh water and monitor them to ensure they are drinking.  

If you aren’t sure if they are dehydrated, watch for panting, unusual opening of the wings and puffing of the feathers.  A paleness in the face can suggest dehydration, but can also be a sign of other illness.  Their breathing may become labored or heavy.  Eventually they will develop diarrhea, and after that they will progress into listless behavior and then complete unresponsiveness.  In severe cases, convulsions may start, which will mean they are very very close to death, and there may be little you can do at this stage, though sometimes if you are lucky, they will recover if they are properly treated.

Before it’s gotten that bad, if you find that your birds have gone without both food and water, give them time to hydrate first, before introducing food.  If it’s in hot weather, take them somewhere cool and shaded, like a basement if available, and keep them calm.  Wrapping your chicken in a towel can help with this.  

If they do not take water themselves, try gently dipping the birds beak into water a few times.  If needed, tilt their head back to help swallowing.  Use water with added electrolytes (ideally with electrolyte packets specifically for livestock, following the directions included with them) for best effect.  Repeat every 5-10 minutes, taking a little bit longer between each ‘watering’ for the next hour.  Once they drink on their on, you can stop helping them with drinking, but they should be kept in a cool place with plenty of fresh water and food for 24 hours and monitored.  If they’ve also gone without food, once they’ve had some time to self-water, you can introduce food as well.


Do Chickens Need Food and Water In Their Coop At Night?

Much like humans, chickens sleep during the night and can go roughly 8 hours without water (not including chicks, who have much more frequent water needs) without it being a health problem, so won’t need water in their coop as long as there is not persisting high heat at night. It’s not common for keepers/farmers to keep water inside their coops as this can lead to an excess moisture in the environment and can encourage pests such as rats. Chickens are health sensitive enough that pests/vermin can be a real issue for them; bringing in outside bacteria and some may even feed on the chicks.  Because chickens generally sleep through the night, they do not need an in-coop food source 

For backyard or home chicken keepers, making sure that your chickens have easy access to sufficient water both in their coop and out in the yard/pasture every day is a good idea if you have reason to be concerned with high heat, frozen water, or other low water situations, but is otherwise not needed.  Just make sure to be careful to prevent potential pests and predators, and moisture problems in their coop if you do keep any water inside.


Concluding Thoughts

Chickens are a pretty hardy species, able to forage for some of their own food depending on their enclosure, and are fairly resilient to both heat and cold, depending on their breed.  However, for their optimal health and production, every chicken owner needs to ensure that they provide a steady supply of fresh clean water, quality food, any supplemental nutrition, and is also prepared to protect their flock from extreme heat or cold.

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