Watering Chickens, What are the Options?

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Watering the Wee Ones

Watering baby chicks usually begin with the Mason Jar base Waterer.
Watering baby chicks usually begin with the Mason Jar base Waterer. | Source

Thirsty Chickens

If I were to name one thing that aggravates me most about having chickens it would be watering them. It seems simple enough, pour a little H2o in something and let them have a slurp right? If only it could be that easy. When I decided to get some baby chicks a few years ago I visited my local Ag Supply store where I purchased not only the chicks, but a tiny feeder lid and a watering lid. These lids screwed onto a Mason jar easily and once inverted, chicks had access to feed in one jar and water in the other. Pretty cool for the first couple of weeks. Then as they grow, their water becomes harder and harder to keep clean. Elevating the jars on a brick helps a bit but it's a battle already lost. Washing and cleaning the water jar is a constant trial.


Watering Chickens

Watering Chickens can be a challenge.
Watering Chickens can be a challenge. | Source

Growing

As my little chickens grew, the need for a larger watering container was needed. So, back to the Ag Supply store I went. There I selected the next most popular option, the one gallon nesting jar poultry waterer. Currently, I still use the hanging version of this waterer when a quick change in housing calls for an immediate need. They are handy and easily useable, although frustrating for long term use Due to the constant dirtiness that finds its way into the tray.

Now, I will tell you, there is nothing more disgusting than dirty poop filling the Chicken waterer. It's the thing that I despise the most, unless you count CLEANING the filthy, stinky thing! Thus, I found myself inspired and self-challenged to find a better solution.

Down & Dirty

There is nothing more disgusting than dirty poop in the chicken Waterer.
There is nothing more disgusting than dirty poop in the chicken Waterer. | Source

Install Chicken Nipples in Most Anything

Chicken Nipples can be installed in just about any container. (*note: above gas can was NEW & never held fuel)
Chicken Nipples can be installed in just about any container. (*note: above gas can was NEW & never held fuel) | Source

Enter: One of World's Greatest Inventions

For a solution to my dirty, poop filled watering problem I turned to my trusty tool, the World Wide Web. I was so excited to find what I decided was one of the best inventions ever; the Chicken Nipple. Yes, indeed, I ordered up a pack of 5 immediately.

I love these things. Since Chickens are inquisitive animals they find anything red intriguing, thus the red nipple catches their attention immediately. And what do they do when they find something fascinating? They peck at it. "Oh! there's a drop of water!" I can just hear their little thoughts as they investigate the new red thingy with the shiny thingy in the middle. So, this requires another peck of inquiry and then they are hooked. Peck, get water. Peck, get water. It comes natural to them.

About the time I was searching for a better watering option I was also brainstorming and building my first Chicken Tractor. Since one of our favorite vintage cars is the 55' Chevy, I had a blast creating my Chevken Coupe (but that's another story). I found an old plastic "Old Crow" bottle (pun intended) and also purchased a new gas jug (NEW, never filled with fuel) And installed the nipples easily.

Making a Bucket Waterer

Begin with drilling 4 holes in bottom of bucket.
Begin with drilling 4 holes in bottom of bucket. | Source

Twist Nipples into Holes

Next, twist-screw nipples into holes.
Next, twist-screw nipples into holes. | Source

Time to Make the Buckets

The chicken nipples worked well but my little bottles did not hold sufficient amount of water for my little flock so it was off to Home Depot to purchase 5 gallon Buckets for my next DIY project.

First order of business was to drill 4 holes in the bottom of each bucket. An opportunity for me to use my cordless drill (I love that thing!)

Twist and Shout!

Installing the chicken nipples is not too difficult but extremely important to do carefully. Reason? Leaky nipples are not pleasant to deal with, or rather, the muddy puddle under the nipple bucket is not pleasant for man nor beast (Or in this case, woman nor fowl). To help guard against leaks using some plumbers tape is advised. Securely wrap the plumbers tape around the threads of the nipple before twisting into bucket Hole.

Chicken Nipples Installed

Nipples installed in bottom of both buckets.
Nipples installed in bottom of both buckets. | Source

Excitement Builds

Eight chicken nipples later I'm getting excited about these watering buckets! I dream of having enough water (as well as feed) available to my chicks that they will never run out of the necessities when I'm out of town for a few days. This not only tends to their well being, but my peace of mind as I know they are not thirsting to death in my absence.

Homer to the Rescue!

Homer Bucket turns Chicken Nipple Bucket!
Homer Bucket turns Chicken Nipple Bucket! | Source

Homer Bucket

Yippee! The Home Depot Homer Buckets have now turned into Chicken Nipple Water Buckets! Ladies and Gents, poop water is about to be taken off the menu.

Now it's time to talk Bucket Lids.

Let's Talk Lids

Installing a filling cap in Lid is a wise move.
Installing a filling cap in Lid is a wise move. | Source

Cap it Off.

Supplement bottle makes al nice refill cap.
Supplement bottle makes al nice refill cap. | Source

Put a Lid on it!

As thrilled as I am about this bucket waterer, there is one more issue I must address. The lid. Anyone who has ever had any experience with 5-gallon buckets and their lids know that the lids snap firmly shut. This is not a bad thing at all however, not something I relish the idea of doing regularly (I know, I sound too pampered don't I). Solution? Create a way to fill the bucket without removing the lid. I take this daily supplement that comes in a dark, hard plastic bottle with a screw-on flip top. Perfect! So, I cut the bottom of the bottle off, cut a hole in bucket lid and secured the bottle neck with a good slathering of super glue (Being careful not to get the super glue on the bottle threads). After the super glue dries thoroughly (at least 24 hrs) snap the lid on the bucket, screw the snap cap onto the threaded bottle neck and you have a perfect place to insert a water hose to fill the bucket.

Chickens love it!

My Chickens love drinking from the nipple bucket!
My Chickens love drinking from the nipple bucket! | Source

Chickens Love drinking from the Nipple Bucket!

Bucket Nipple Waterer

Leaky Nipples are not pleasant.
Leaky Nipples are not pleasant. | Source

So NOW What's the Problem?

Things went well for a while, but then one of the nipples began to leak in one of the buckets. Try as I may to stop it, drip, drip, drip... And the puddle underneath remains a constant muddy mess.

Meanwhile, plans had begun for building a new Chicken House. we hold our breath with each storm that blows through in fear of the old one collapsing. I began combing the Internet in search of the best watering system on the market. I found some rather interesting options. I had a mental list of requirements that I just refused to waver from.

  • Cleanliness of the water was a concern of course, which also included the Waterer itself so for me that ruled out troughs, trays and bowls. I love the nipple style and so do my chickens.
  • Capacity is a must. Since I've become spoiled to watering every few days, I don't want to lose that benefit.
  • Passive Flow System. Not to get way too complicated and over my head, I chose not to entangle myself in systems that were too complex for me. Passive Flow (or Gravity flow) systems allow the water to naturally flow downward with no need for pumps.
  • INTERCHANGEABLE & REPAIRABLE PARTS!! Sadly, this feature seems to be the most rare of all the systems I found. Something might work well, but everything will always have a breakdown and I'm not happy if a repair is not possible.

What's out there?

After much online research, I will admit my All-Time Favorite system is The Chicken Fountain. This guy has done his research and knows what he's doing. His product has taken off quickly with great feedback and endorsements. I believe he builds the highest quality product available. So, why did I not order this product? Well, it did not fulfill all of my list of requirements. Since I wanted a higher capacity system, (and hooking up to the water hydrant was not an option) the 1-2 gallon capacity just wasn't enough. He does make an extremely good point on his website that a 1-2 gallon reservoir keeps the water not only cleaner, but fresher. I believe this is a good point, especially for those who are just wanting to get away from the popular watering bottle/tray style. It also made me consider that even though my dream system will hold several gallons, I may rarely keep it filled to the top, thus adding fresh water more often. I enjoy the comfort in knowing that when I'm out of town for a few days, the higher capacity insures my chickens will not go thirsty.

Another reason I did not order the Chicken Fountain was my concern of leaking nipples, or rather the replacement thereof should one start to leak. Now, due to his overwhelming feedback it doesn't appear this is a problem for the Chicken Fountain, however, I'm still wincing from enduring my leaky bucket. My thoughts were to design a system that makes replacing a nipple that begins to leak easier and not having to replace the entire system.

Another option that I found while researching was the Brite Tap Chicken Nipple Waterer. This gadget is rather neat as it attaches to an insulated watercooler jug or anything else that has a spigot. The Brite Tap disassembles rather neatly for cleaning and although I was concerned about long term durability, I think it could be considered my runner up favorite of available options on today's market.

My Cackleberry Quad-Wand Watering System

My Quad-Wand Gravity Flow Watering System.
My Quad-Wand Gravity Flow Watering System. | Source

Gathering Supplies

Gather all the components for the water system. You will see in this photo that I tried PVC plumbing caps, reducing the need for what I call the Dark Gray Double Male Coupler, however, although the plumbing caps work, they are not my favorite.
Gather all the components for the water system. You will see in this photo that I tried PVC plumbing caps, reducing the need for what I call the Dark Gray Double Male Coupler, however, although the plumbing caps work, they are not my favorite. | Source
The wand body begins with four 3/4" PVC T connectors with bottom of T threaded. Connect these Ts with 1" PVC couplers. What I call the Double Male Coupler (I found this little jewel in the Sprinkler system department. It is actually a Threaded Riser
The wand body begins with four 3/4" PVC T connectors with bottom of T threaded. Connect these Ts with 1" PVC couplers. What I call the Double Male Coupler (I found this little jewel in the Sprinkler system department. It is actually a Threaded Riser | Source
Here you see a complete 3-nipple wand just above the 4-nipple wand we are building.
Here you see a complete 3-nipple wand just above the 4-nipple wand we are building. | Source
Each end of the wand is an arm of a PVC T. It is smooth inside and out with no threads. On each end of the wand you will need a Swivel Hose Adapter that will slide smoothly inside the 3/4" PVC T. The other end of the Swivel Hose Adapter being female,
Each end of the wand is an arm of a PVC T. It is smooth inside and out with no threads. On each end of the wand you will need a Swivel Hose Adapter that will slide smoothly inside the 3/4" PVC T. The other end of the Swivel Hose Adapter being female, | Source

Replaceable Nipples

Nipples and garden hose caps.
Nipples and garden hose caps. | Source
Drill hole in center of garden hose cap, insert nipple.
Drill hole in center of garden hose cap, insert nipple. | Source
Replaceable nipple caps.
Replaceable nipple caps. | Source

As Last Resort, Do It Yourself

After extensive research and not being able to find just exactly what I wanted, I, being the DIY kind of person anyway, made the executive decision to make my own watering system. I have four different groups of chickens (thanks to being way too blessed with Roosters, all of which are too far into my heart for me to part with) and my new chicken house is designed to fit this "flock-style". Had I found a system agreeable to my requirements I had intended to purchase four of whatever it was. That not being the case, and as I brainstormed for my dream watering system, I decided on ONE system to water all four units. Details of this system can be found in my article about it; My Cackleberry Wet Bar Watering System. Check back soon to read about it.

About the time I had almost completed my Quad System, my niece, a young wife & mother, decided she needed some chickens. I set about creating her a smaller "Single Wand" system for her little flock. I will continue this article with the system I made for her, using the same design as I did for my Quad System. I suspect, for the most part, the Single Wand system is more adaptable to the average flock's use.

Design Time

Since I don't think I could be content with anything but continuing use of poultry nipples, it appeared to me a wand style drinker was the answer. In designing and creating my own system with parts available to me, I could create the watering system in a way that any given part (or problem area) could be unassembled and replaced as needed for cleaning or repairs. (Yay!)

Now, my system design is nothing more than fine tuning what others have already come up with, while remaining with the utmost basic plumbing knowledge. Making the replacement of a leaking nipple seems so simple yet when it's not possible, it ruins the entire product. I settled on a 5-Gallon bucket with a water hose connecting it to a wand with 3-4 Nipples. The biggest factor was creating the wand so the nipples, should one begin to leak, could be replaced EASILY.

I found when roaming around in Lowes and Home Depot that my options grew greatly if I stayed with the garden hose's basic 3/4" size plumbing components. I was fascinated with the inventory I found not only in the plumbing department, but the Gardening and Sprinkler system Departments. One thing I'd like to note here is pay attention to what fits together. Size labels are so helpful but don't get lost in relying on labels only. Remember a pipe or coupling has an inside and an outside. Sometimes it gets confusing if the label is talking about the inside or the outside.

Next I had to figure out what parts would be needed for the wand. With buggy as my design table, I picked out, lined up, arranged, rearranged and thought through each needed part. I will admit many an assistant scratched his head at my buggy as I assured each I was just brainstorming. I found it exhausting to even consider sharing my train of thought with them.

The wand body begins with four 3/4" PVC T connectors with bottom of T threaded. Connect these Ts with 1" PVC couplers. Now, someone with more plumbing experience might stop here and say there is no need to use the 1" couplers to connect the T's, that one could cut a piece of PVC pipe to fit into the Ts. I agree that'd work, however, it would also require cutting of pipe and thus another process and I find it much simpler to grab up a handful of couplers already perfect in size and length.

What I call the Double Male Coupler (I found this little jewel in the Sprinkler system department. It is actually a Threaded Riser Nipple) screws into the bottom of each T Of the wand.

My idea to make the nipples easily replaceable began with installing each one in a threaded cap and NOT in a pipe or bucket bottom. This idea in itself is the key to the entire water system.

By using garden hose sizes and supplies I found the Chicken nipple could be installed into a Hose End Cap. This cap with installed Chicken Nipple easily screws onto the Dark Gray Double Male Coupler in the bottom of the wand. Drill the hole in the center of the cap instead of the pipe or bucket bottom. These caps are rather inexpensive and work awesomely. You will see in some of the photos that I tried PVC plumbing caps also, reducing the need for what I call the Dark Gray Double Male Coupler, however, although it works, it is not my favorite.

The Nipple Cap screws onto the Dark Gray Double Male Coupler (aka Threaded Riser Nipple) which screws into the bottom of the threaded PVC Ts. Got it? Good, now lets talk about the ends of the wand.

Each end of the wand is an arm of a PVC T. It is smooth inside and out with no threads. On each end of the wand you will need a Swivel Hose Adapter that will slide smoothly inside the 3/4" PVC T. The other end of the Swivel Hose Adapter being female, freely connects to the Male end of a garden hose (See photos).

One end of the wand connects to the Male end of a garden hose, the other end of the wand connects to a hose shut off valve. This gives you two options; 1. By opening the shut off valve connector you can flush the hose and wand. 2. Since the shut off valve is a connector, you have the option to connect another hose or another wand.

Completed Waterer.

Completed wand (using the plumbing caps that are not my favorite).
Completed wand (using the plumbing caps that are not my favorite). | Source
Where there's a will, there's a way. (No busted lid gonna get the best of me!)
Where there's a will, there's a way. (No busted lid gonna get the best of me!) | Source
Under side of resurrected lid.
Under side of resurrected lid. | Source
Amazing what a little blue paint will do!
Amazing what a little blue paint will do! | Source

Let's Talk Lids.

I had such a good experience when adding a hose spout to the lids of my "Home Depot" bucket waterers that I couldn't wait to do the same thing with the lid of my "Lowes" bucket-&-wand system lid. I quickly found out all bucket lids are NOT created equal! As I set about to cut a hole into the Lowes lid it snapped and cracked. Bummer. Thinking I had just been careless, I purchased another lid upon my next visit to Lowes. I started cutting the hole in the second lid, it cracked just as the first one did. Double Bummer! Upon a more through inspection I realized that the Home Depot lid was softer, more rubbery and giving. Lowes lids were a harder plastic thus making them more brittle. Obviously, this difference is not noticeable to the average eye, until one puts them to a test, like oh... Say, cutting a hole in them.

By the time I had busted the second lid, I will admit my mood had been damaged as well and determination had set in not to make a third trip to Lowes for a third lid. Cutting the ridges off of two cool whip bowl lids so all was left was flat plastic, a breaking out my super glue and hot pink duct tape, I forced that busted lid into service! Smiling smugly, and brushing my hands, I mentally confirmed that where there's a will, there's a way.

My experienced advise to you; Start with a Home Depot lid.

Gravity Flow Bucket-&-Wand Watering System

Final product completed. Gravity Flow Bucket-&-Wand Poultry Watering system.
Final product completed. Gravity Flow Bucket-&-Wand Poultry Watering system. | Source

Mission Accomplished.

It's been such a learning experience concerning this project of clean Poultry H2o. My desire to create not only a system to water my chickens in a clean manner, but prepare myself for future problems. In building the bucket-&-wand Waterer for my niece my design has already rewarded itself. Yep, right off the bat one of the chicken nipples leaked. Had I not had other option to remove it and repair it, the entire water system would have been a wash. I am thrilled to acknowledge the success of my design already. I am a happy lady. :-)

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Comments 1 comment

Karen P. 20 months ago

This waterer is awesome! I have just assembled one for my girls.

One thing I added was a gauge to measure the level of water in my bucket. I did this with a floating small bottle that I tied a piece of fishing line to, threaded thru a small hole I made in the lid of the bucket and then tied it to a small fiece of wood as a counter weight. I then marked off the water levels on my bucket for where 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and full was so i'd know the level of water in the bucket by where the counterweight was on the outside of the bucket. Now, i don't even have to open the cap on the lid to know if i need to fill it. :)

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