In case you haven't heard, this winter in New England has been one of the coldest in living memory. Vermont hasn't had quite the same snow that has blanketed Boston, but we have been dealing with a very long stretch of below 0* F temperatures. For our chickens, that kind of weather can be seriously dangerous.
It is really important that chickens have consistent access to water in order to maintain their body heat. The water helps their digestion process, which results in heat release. (Also why we feed them a few quarts of scratch in the afternoon so that the heat created from digesting the sugars in the corn will help warm the coop at night).
Without a doubt, the hardest thing to manage in a winter flock has been keeping our chickens' water from freezing over. Last winter we went out twice per day, smashed the ice blocks that had formed in the water bowls, and refilled them with fresh water. This was a huge time sink that we really could not keep up while also trying to keep our eggs affordable. This winter our goal was to come up with a winterized water system that would provide fresh, clean water all day long. We tried a few different methods that work at different temperatures, and we have settled on two simple methods.