Building an Off-Grid Chicken Waterer From the Gutter Down

Rain barrel off the side of the house

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.

Just one hour after Ian had filled the waterer to the top. Those ladies were thirsty!

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.


Installing the gutters.

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.

Close up of the PVC pipes… and the guinea fowl my parents’ husky chased on to the roof.

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.

Adjusting the fit of the PVC pipe in the barrel.
Using a T joint we bought to split the flow of water into two directions.

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 chicken nipple sealed on PVC pipe
Two pipes worth of nipples for my gals!

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.

Maybe this is a good way to give them their daily dose of grit.

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.

chicken waterer

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10 thoughts on “Building an Off-Grid Chicken Waterer From the Gutter Down

  1. I just love it that the whole system relies on gravity–from the clouds all the way to the bottom of the chicken’s stomach. And then leave it to God to give us the evaporation process to make it a perpetual cycle!

  2. Good for you! Good for your chickens! Lorene Parsley (our MeeMaw) would be especially happy to see this system if she was still an earth-bound resident of the Ridge. The entire water system at Dogwood Gap is rainwater traveling from gutters into a huge holding tank.

  3. Pigs figure out how to use these types of waterers pretty quickly. I’m sure your chickens will pick it up. 😀

  4. How many chickens do you have? We just got some and are considering which size waterer to purchase. The thought of hauling water daily does not sound fun. So I may try convince hubby to do this instead!

    1. We have 11 birds right now. (8 chickens and three guinea fowl)That maxed out our previous system so this new one was a big upgrade!

  5. Does your barrel get mosquito larvae in it? I would think that would be a problem during summer months? Does it stay full enough to put a goldfish or two in the barrel?

    1. They do a bit. We have wire screens that we put over the top of the barrels, and we also have goldfish in the barrels to eat the larvae and algae. We want to start using mosquito minnows instead because we will be able to feed them to our chickens!

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