Chicken Waterer

Anyone who has kept chickens knows that it’s a daily battle to keep their water clean and fresh. Our favorite waterer, the double-walled galvanized metal style, needed to be cleaned out almost daily, and with North Texas summer temps often hitting the 110s, we were struggling to keep their water cool for more than a few hours at a time. Since we can’t come home and refresh their water every few hours all summer, I had to come up with something.

The concept is pretty simple. Put an insulated water jug in a shaded area of the coop (they never roost in the hen-house, so I may as well re-purpose the space) to supply nipple or cup waterers. The difficult part, much more difficult than I ever expected, was figuring out how to connect a hose to the water container. The spigot isn’t designed for this, and replacement options only offered barbed connections meant to be crammed into pvc hose, but after 4 hours of wandering around the hardware store plumbing aisles, I’m happy with the result.

Tools:

  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Drill
  • 3/8″ drill bit
  • Driver (optional)
  • Teflon tape for pipe threads
  • Adhesive for PVC pipe and fittings
  • Saw (for cutting PVC pipe, I use a hack saw because the fine teeth make a smooth cut)
  • Workbench & Clamps (will make life easier)
  • A bit of sandpaper ~180 grit
    • to de-burr and clean up cut edges of pvc.

Supplies:

  • For the Reservoir
    • Water container (Igloo 5 Gallon Drinking Water Cooler)
    • Coupling – Brass – 3/8″ FIP (e.g. Everbilt #LFA-760)
      • used as a nut
    • Nipple – Brass – 3/8″ MIP x 1 1/2″ (e.g. Everbilt #LFA-786)
      • could probably get away with just 1″ length
    • Coupling – Brass – 1/2″ FIP x 3/8″ FIP (e.g. Everbilt #LFA-815)
    • Rubber Grommet (e.g. Jandorf #61508)
      • 1 1/8″ OD x 5/8″ ID x 3/8″ Thick x 7/8″ Groove Diameter x 1/8″ Groove Width
    • Hose Bibb – Brass – 1/2″ 1/4-turn MPT x MHT with 3/4″ male threaded outlet that works with water hose connections (e.g. Everbilt #VHBQTCC3EB)
    • 2x standard rubber washers for water hose fittings
    • 3x Metric M16 stainless steel washers
      • these slide perfectly over the 3/8″ brass nipple
  • For the Drinking Cups/Nipples
    • 3/4″ PVC pipe, length depends on your desired setup.
    • 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3/4″ Adapter PVC Fitting (e.g. Genova #75623)
    • 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3/4″ Street Elbow PVC Fitting (e.g. Lasco #412007RMC)
    • 3/4″ x 3/4″ Cap PVC Fitting (e.g. Lasco #448007RMC)
    • A few 3/4″ conduit straps (e.g. Sigma Electric ProConnex #42821)
    • Water hose, length depends on your desired setup.
      • Needs 3/4″ female threaded fitting on one end, and 3/4″ male threaded fitting on the other.
    • 3/4″ threaded double-female water hose adapter fitting (e.g. B&K #GH-662B)
    • A few 3/4″+ exterior wood screws.
    • Poultry Watering Cups or Nipples (e.g. Harris Farms #1000304)

Assembling the new spigot:

Remove push-button spigot from the water container. There’s only the one plastic nut on the inside. Then fit the rubber grommet into the hole.


The new spigot will be assembled as shown, with the 3/8″ nipple passing through the rubber grommet.

Thread the 3/8″ nipple into the 3/8″ coupling until snug, then slide on an M16 washer and rubber washer. The coupling is just serving as a nut since I couldn’t find a pipe-threaded nut.

Push the remaining 3/8″ nipple through the rubber grommet from the inside of the container. A spray silicone lubricant or similar will make this much easier, but be sure whatever you use use is food-safe and will not degrade the rubber.


Slide on another rubber washer and two M16 washers (one isn’t thick enough with the 1 1/2″ nipple).

Thread on the 3/8″ FIP x 1/2″ FIP coupler and 1/2″ hose bib. Use teflon tape to ensure a good seal.

Once assembled, give it a leak check.

And that’s it for the reservoir.

Assembling and installing the waterer:

Before you get started, take a moment to think about where you want to put the fountain-end of the waterer.

For watering cups like I’ve used, consider:

  • They need to be mounted high enough to avoid debris kicked up by dust-bathing birds.
  • …low enough for your smallest bird to access them easily
  • …in a place where birds won’t be moving around or roosting above them. Anything under a chicken will get pooped on.

The mounting location you pick will determine the lengths of PVC pipe and water hose you need.

Here, I picked a location along the back wall, protected from droppings by our coop’s “mezzanine”. This didn’t work out, but for a different reason that I’ll come to later.


Cut your 3/4″ PVC pipe to length.

Mark a line down it’s length using a straight-edge. You’ll drill holes for the cups along this line so that they are at the same angle once the pipe is mounted.

Mark points along the length of the pipe where you want cups. Then drill out the holes with the 3/8″ bit.

Now, carefully thread the water cups into these holes. Once again using teflon tape to ensure a good seal.


Clamp the pipe to your workbench so that the cups are level.

Add the 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3/4″ Adapter PVC Fitting to the end that is towards where you plan to place the water cooler. Thread the double-female water hose adapter onto this end.

Add the 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3/4″ Street Elbow PVC Fitting to the end opposite the water cooler, then thread on the 3/4″ x 3/4″ Cap PVC Fitting. This end is your clean-out, so you can flush out any debris that happens to make it in here. You could use another straight fitting like the other end, but I went with the bend so that it could also be loosened to vent air bubbles from the system. Not really necessary.

I recommend a dry-fit first, make sure everything works out like you imagined fully installed, then take it apart to cement the fittings permanently.


Use clamps to support the waterer while you get it leveled, then mount it with the conduit straps. If you tighten the bottom screw fully, you can loosen the top one to rotate the pipe and adjust the cup position. Just be sure to re-tighten it after.


Place your cooler in the coop. Since my girls have never used the hen-house to roost at night (they’ve always preferred to roost in the run) I opted to store the water in here where it’s shaded.

Connect the cooler to the waterer with the short length of water hose. I used a ready-made 3ft extension, but fittings are available make a custom length. The double-female adapter makes it easy to install and remove the hose while the waterer is mounted.

That’s it!

Chickens may not be brilliant, but ours learned to use the water cups pretty quickly once we introduced them to it. What we think worked best was to fill the cup (hit the float with your finger), then take each of the girls over and dip their beak into it. We then repeated this with the cup empty and made their beak hit the float. They don’t really have to learn to hit the float to fill the cup themselves, they’ll bump it naturally when drinking. Check it out!

Interested in that small door in the last pic above? I’ll explain in another post, linked here when it’s published. Probably another year from now.


Follow-up & Changes

First, pretend that I published the guide above soon after the day I built it, instead of a year later. Then, pretend that I came back with an update and some changes just a few weeks after, and that I’m not actually writing all of this at once. Got it? Great.

Two things came up that forced me to change things up at bit.

First, the water is still too hot.

In the post above, I suggested three things to consider when deciding where to place your waterer. Well, I overlooked something almost hilarious given the reason for this whole project. It’s real damn hot in the summer, even in the shade, and I had placed the waterer such that the pipe and hose were both in full afternoon sun.

I moved the pipe to the other side of the coop where it would be shaded most of the day, but as it turns out, water hose and pvc will still soak up a lot of ambient heat. The cooler worked great, but the girls just didn’t go through the water fast enough to keep cool water flowing to the cups.

So, I cut the hose short and made a new waterer with the goal of having as little water as possible outside the cooler at any time.

In addition to the tools and materials for the original project, you will need:

  • Sharp knife
  • Screwdriver
  • 1/8-27 NPT pipe tap (e.g. Irwin Hanson #359001)
  • T-Handle Tap Wrench (e.g. Irwin Hanson TR-2E #12002)
  • 5/8″ x 3/4″ metal hose mender (male or female) (e.g. Yardsmith #8811 or #8812)
  • Short piece of scrap 3/4″ PVC pipe
  • 3/4″ slip-on PVC cap (e.g. Lasco #447007RMC)

To shorten the hose, just cut it and add a clamp-on fitting.

For the waterer, I used a short 3-4″ section of 3/4″ PCV pipe with a standard slip-on cap glued on one-end and another 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3/4″ adapter at the other. The cups are actually threaded into the cap and pipe. Which brings me to the second thing.

Second, a few drips a minute will empty a 5 gallon jug while you’re at work.

Nearly every article, forum, post, Youtube video, and Amazon review about these water cups will tell you not to worry about tapping the PVC with the correct threads. They’re wrong. I’ll skip all the ways I tried and just tell you to either buy or borrow the tap and do it right the first time.

The Harris Farms Poultry Cups Model #1000304 use a 1/8-27 NPT thread. The NPT designates National Pipe Thread, tapered. The threads are ever so slightly tapered so that as they come together, they form a tight seal.

I had trouble finding the correct tap at my local hardware stores, both big box and independent, but they’re easy to find online and cost less than $10. Don’t forget a T-Handle Tap Wrench too, also about $10.

The tap calls for a 21/64″ bit, but a 5/16″ (slightly smaller) will do fine since we’re tapping relatively soft plastic.

Drill the holes, then twist in the tap until it has cut threads through the entire hole. Unscrew the tap and then simply screw on the cups, with a little teflon tape. Since doing this properly mine haven’t leaked a drop.