I have some very needy chickens. Almost every day their thirst demands that Ian or I refill their poultry waterer. Filling it is a simple enough process but made more complicated because our entire homestead runs on rainwater and all our livestock water comes from giant rain barrels off the side of our house. Walking back and forth from the house to the coop with a cumbersome watering can gets old pretty quick. When we first got our chickens it would take days for them to empty their waterer. Now that they’ve grown to full size and the weather has warmed, they empty it more than once a day.
That’s not a hardship for us, but it’s a lot to ask of a chicken sitter if we leave our homestead for more than a day or two. As it is, our forgetful tendencies have caused both of us to find the waterer bone dry on many an occasion. With hot weather coming soon I’m fearful our forgetfulness could lead to severe dehydration or at least decreased egg production for my ladies. One option is to buy more waterers, but at $50 each they aren’t cheap. Besides, that wouldn’t do much to decrease our work anyways.
A better option? Move the rainwater directly to the chickens by way of an automatic chicken watering system!
By using a gutter off the roof of the coop to collect rain in a 55 gallon barrel, we won’t have to worry about the chickens running out nearly as often. My lovely parents coming to visit us for a long weekend provided the perfect opportunity for Ian and my dad to tackle this project together.
The first step was installing gutters on the down slope of the coop. One of the few pieces of this project we had to buy, the gutters came from our local hardware store and cost about $45.
Next, PVC pipe was attached to the the gutter to bring water from the lower end of the coop to the upper end. We did this because the coop was built on a steep slant and putting the rain barrel on the lower end would necessitate that it be raised several feet off the ground to be effective. Building a sturdy platform that wouldn’t be tipsy or dangerous was more complicated than simply directing water to the higher end, so that’s what they did.
All the long pieces of PVC pipe that we used were found on property in the woods. (Remnants from past projects that were abandoned by previous homeowners). The PVC joints were bought at our hardware store and ranged in price from $.79 to $4.
In the trend of reusing old materials, we utilized an unused rain barrel for the holding tank of the waterer. Likewise, old paving stones that had previously been a path through the garden found new life as the platform for the barrel to rest on.
For the watering mechanics, Ian bought Chicken Nipples (as fun to write as it is to say!) off Amazon that work much like the hamster water bottles that are put in pet cages. He bought this particular brand because they were advertised to fit over PVC pipe for a tight seal. The package instructed drilling a 5/16th hole in the pipe, but when Ian and my dad tried the nipples didn’t fit. They had to go up a drill size and seal the gap with silicone. Considering this, and the very cheap material that the nipples were built from, I wouldn’t recommend buying this brand. We’ll try something else if we ever redo this project.
The nipple pipes (hee-hee 🙂 ) were CAREFULLY attached to both ends of the mid pipe that went through the chicken fence and into their run.
The finished system. The middle pipe that went through the chicken fence ended up a little longer than ideal, but shortening it seemed more bother than it was worth.
One crucial component of this system is the faucet for drainage. These pipes aren’t insulated, and the entire system will need to be winterized or we risk it bursting. Having a faucet at the bottom makes draining simple which is essential for cold nights in the spring.
And now for the hard part: waiting for rain to see how well the system works! We’ve poured a few buckets of water in the barrel just to make sure the nipples don’t leak. So far so good.
Actually the hardest part of this whole system might be convincing the chickens to use it. They ignored the nipples all day but happily slurped up the mud after we drained the barrel in the evening. Bird brains.
And that’s our new chicken watering system! For the same cost as one more indoor waterer, we built an outdoor system with 10x the capacity that won’t require much extra work from us to keep up. I’d call that a success.
Any readers out there using a similar system? How does it compare to ours? Are you happy with it? I’d love to hear about it.