A Better Chicken Waterer - automatic, freeze proof, and maintenance free

A better chicken waterer you say? Well, I don't know if it's better, but it sure is bigger than any waterer I've ever seen.

Yes it is. Let me explain.

Many are looking for an all season waterer that eliminates the trouble associated with keeping a flock hydrated. I've created a solution, and yes, it's a big one.

The photo above was taken during final construction activities and shows from left to right, the chicken coop (a salvaged homemade wooden camper top) the waterer enclosure and tower (lacking proper skirting around the foundation) and the main gate to chicken yard #1.

The Need for an All Seasons Chicken Waterer

Chicken waterer woes are many to say the least. Water is heavy, it's messy, and if there is a way to contaminate the water, chickens will find it. Even in the summer months, keeping chickens in water with traditional founts is a pain in the ass. In the winter, it's far worse because water freezes.

I set out to address this issue in a big way. My intention was to make the problems go away, or nearly so, and at the same time provide me with a large capacity chicken waterer that required infrequent refilling. I had previously built an automatic chicken feeder (and I'm building another one that's chicken-actuated), so I was determined to create an automatic chicken waterer as well.

The idea behind all of the waterers and feeders I build is to provide extraordinary capacity. This allows me to go away on extended vacation and then my friends and neighbors simply collect and enjoy fresh eggs. They don't have to mess with food or water.

What's so Great About This?

Let me share with you what I've created and why I'm so pleased. The advantages of my homemade chicken waterer are many:

  • Provides a 275 gallon supply of water which will serve the needs of many dozens of birds for many months
  • Freeze proof even well below zero
  • Automatic
  • Trouble free (so far and keeping my fingers crossed)
  • Basically maintenance free
  • Seldom needs refilling

I know this sounds too good to be true, but it is the truth. My creation nearly eliminates the work associated with keeping chickens in water.

Expectations Met

My watering system meets all of my expectations, but I won't fool you into thinking it was a snap to put together. It was challenging to build, but certainly not outside the ability of the average do-it-yourselfer who has a helper, a decided focus on success, and at least a couple of weekends to spare.

Now that I have it completed, I have no regrets with respect to the cost of materials or the time and effort that was required to build it. I've enjoyed the better part of a year without having to do much of anything to keep my chickens hydrated. I'm tickled that it turned out so well.

A 275 Gallon Tank is at The Heart of the Chicken Waterer System

I've been called "excessive" and I won't deny it. My homemade chicken waterer employs a 275 gallon food grade IBC (intermediate bulk container) tote that previously held organic agave syrup. I figured if I was going to make an elevated watering system, I didn't want to have to fill it very often, and I also wanted some excess water so I could periodically flush the supply line.

When designing this automatic chicken waterer, I estimated that a chicken might drink a cup of water a day, so even with only 250 gallons of water in the tank for my flock of 15 birds, that amount would last me nearly nine months. If I gave the system a good flush and refill every six months, that would still leave me with plenty of safety margin should a few of my layers get especially thirsty, or perhaps a couple of nipples leaked a bit more than expected.

Okay then, the waterer has plenty of capacity. Perhaps very much "over-capacitated," but that's alright with me...and my birds.

Chicken Nipples to the Rescue

The key to success with this project was the use of chicken nipples. They aren't a perfect solution, but they certainly are the best thing to come on the market in a long time. Using chicken nipples allows anyone to create their own waterer using a tub, tank, barrel or any other container that can hold water.

A pipe-within-a-pipe design provides a supply of water from the tower into the coop and then to a set of three chicken nipples. The inner pipe carries the water while the outer pipe provides "dead air" so the heat traced supply line stays out of the cold winter wind.

Electricity is Essential

As much as I thought about avoiding the use of electricity to keep water from freezing in the winter, I came to the conclusion that there really wasn't any other practicable alternative. So, I use electricity to provide a little warmth to the tank and considerable warmth to the supply line where the chicken nipples are installed. If I wanted to have an all season chicken waterer, I would have to use electricity to keep it from freezing.

Results Counts

During the first few weeks and months of operation, I checked to be sure that the heat tape was working, the light bulbs hadn't burned out, and the nipples were still operating. Except for a couple of burned out bulbs, the system has worked exactly as expected with no trouble whatsoever. I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of this system...it never seemed to have any "bugs" in it at all.

So, the bottom line is this homemade chicken waterer was built and put into service in the Fall of 2012, and here it is the Spring of 2013, and I haven't done anything to it except replace two 15 watt light bulbs, flush the supply line three times, and checked on the performance of the chicken nipples during the coldest of weather conditions. I haven't even added water for the last seven months.

It's been seven months since I put it into service and haven't had to do anything to provide water to my chicken since that time.

Realizing that it had been so long since I originally filled up the tank, I went out to determine the level. From mid-October of 2012 to the end of May, 2013, my flock of 10 to 15 birds had only used about 1/3 of the water, and that included several supply line flushes.

A test of the seven month old water inside the tank showed no signs of sediment and no discoloration. It had no foul smell and no foul taste. It was as fresh as the day I filled the tank. Nevertheless, I'll be changing out the water about every six months just to make sure it stays fresh, and only filling the tank completely during the winter to take advantage of the enormous thermal mass it offers.

Wrapping it Up

I tend to do things in a big way, so if you're looking for a robust solution to the chore of keeping your flock hydrated, this (or something similar) might be just what you're looking for. It's bigger and better than many other waterer options out there, and it works very well.

It should be good, it's homemade. This ain't no store bought chicken waterer!

There really isn't much else to say about the project, but I'm willing to help you figure out how to build something like this for your own flock of chickens if you have an interest in doing so. Use the contact form and drop me a note. I'm always happy to help where I can.

And, good luck with your chicken waterer project, whatever form it might take.

Done with Chicken Waterer, take me back to Backyard Chickens

I couldn't be more pleased to have solved the problem of keeping chickens watered year-round. There are many possible solutions out there in the marketplace, but I opted to create my own.

Whether you're looking to create your own solution or you're more in the market for a commercial product, here are additional resources to consider.