Building A DIY Chicken Waterer with Nipples
Tips on building a chicken nipple waterer
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Building a DIY chicken waterer with nipples is a quick and easy project for any skill level. Making your own waterer is cost-effective, will save you time down the road, and give your birds a clean reservoir of water throughout their day. The best part of this DIY project is; you can use your imagination and build something unique, but let’s cover some basics first, and then I’ll explain what I’ve done on my most recent build.
Food Grade Buckets
Not all buckets are created equal. Food grade buckets are certified not to release toxins into their contents. The cheap buckets you buy at the local home improvement store are seldom food-safe. Food grade buckets are typically made of thicker plastic and withstand freezing, which is of particular use to farmers using these in barns. They also don’t release toxins when heated, like leaving them out in the sun.
Where To Source Buckets
Yes, you can go to your local big-box store and buy a cheap bucket, and I’ve done that. You can also find second-hand food-grade buckets at restaurants and delis for cheap or free. I’ve also ordered quality buckets from online suppliers like ULINE. However, you source your pail, just understand that not all plastics are safe for holding water.
Bucket manufacturers refer to their bucket’s wall thickness in “MIL.” For example, a 90 MIL bucket is what I’d consider a thick-walled bucket. For comparison, your average “Homer Bucket” from Home Depot is 70 MIL, which is sufficient but certainly thinner. The thicker the bucket wall, the better chance it has of surviving a freeze, and the less likely the bottoms are to buckle when you’re adding chicken waterer nipples to them.
You can find a few different lid types for five-gallon pails, and I’ve tried many. The spout style works well for a while but eventually breaks. The solid lids are promising but require modification; otherwise, they’re inconvenient to remove every day. There are two-piece screw lids called Gamma Lids which are handy for the right situation, but you can’t easily use them when the bucket is hanging.
If you plan to set these DIY chicken waterers with nipples down on the ground to refill them, you’ll have to add some legs to them; otherwise, you’ll be setting the bucket down on the valves. I found free scraps from a vinyl fence installer works excellent for adding feet to these buckets. I attached them using stainless steel self-tapping screws on a previous bucket build, but I’m sure the right glue or some tenacious double-stick tape would work better.
There are two types of install methods for valves; push-in and threaded. Push-in nipples rely on a rubber grommet to mount and seal to the bucket. Threaded nipples thread into the hole you’ve made and rely on a gasket to create a seal. Both function well, but my preference for ease of installation is push-in, mostly because I’m afraid of stripping the plastic threads on the threaded type.
Remember that as your birds drink from your DIY chicken waterer with nipples, they will cause a vacuum to form in the bucket. Unless you’ve modified the lid and your modifications give you sufficient venting, you’ll have to add it. My favorite place to add a vent hole is just under the first ridge near the top of the bucket, so it’s protected from the coop environment. You don’t need a huge hole to vent the container; a 3/32″ hole should suffice.
Sizing and Use
There are a few things you need to remember when using these types of waterers. These valves need to be suspended above the head of your chickens, just tall enough that they need to stretch up slightly to reach the valve stem with their beak. If you hang them too low, the birds will tap the valve from the side and drip water onto your bedding, making a mess. If you have a mixed-size flock, you may have to add another waterer and hang one to accommodate your taller birds and one for your shorter birds. Also, 10 to 12 chickens is the magic number for how many chickens per water nipple.
Many people over the years have told me that they’ve avoided making a DIY chicken waterer with nipples because they freeze. Any waterer will freeze, but contrary to popular belief, a nipple bucket can be heated. I picked up a 250-watt pail de-icer online for my most recent build, and it kept my water moving through the valves all winter long in New England. To keep the de-icer from moving in the bucket, I used a strip of double-sided tape to secure it to the bottom of the bucket. If you use a de-icer, be sure to remove it every season and clean the deposits off the heater element. Otherwise, you’ll get hot spots that will kill your de-icer.
My most recent chicken nipple waterer build was a bit of a rush job, but it came together nicely. I went with a solid top because I wanted to make my own holes. I made two holes with my hole saw. One hole was for the fill hole and one for the de-icer cord. If you consider hole one as 12 O’clock, hole two was at the 9 o’clock position. I did this so that the cable would come out of the lid right where the bucket’s handle was to zip-tie the cord to the handle. I also wanted the fill hole 90 degrees from the handles and as close to the edge for filling convenience.
I didn’t want to leave the holes wide open to contamination from the coop environment, so I had to cover them somehow. I found large rubber stoppers at my local hardware store, to which I added a small eye-bolt to tie a retention cord. I needed a hole large enough to pass the plug for the electrical cord, so I found a plastic cap at the hardware store to cover the large hole I had to make. I drilled a hole the size of the cord in the center of the cap, then cut from the hole to the edge. This way, I could manipulate the cable into the cap.
I usually buy push-in-type valves, but my preferred valves were on back-order, so I bought the threaded nipples my feed store had in stock. It was as easy as drilling the prescribed hole size and threading the valves into the holes.
Every time I build a DIY chicken waterer with nipples, I seem to learn something. I’ve learned that cheap nipple valves are less than ideal. I wasn’t impressed with these valves from the start, and they seized up in the spring on me, which I’d never seen before, and caused my hens to stop laying. I have since replaced them with my preferred push-in style valve.
Using a wrench to screw valves into the bottom of a bucket isn’t fun. If I have to do that again, I’ll use a deep socket instead. I also ran into a random issue of needing a metric drill for the threaded valve holes. I only have imperial size bits and had to buy a lone drill bit to install them.
Lastly, I was in a hurry and used a thin-walled Home Depot bucket, and I didn’t like how the bottom of the bucket buckled when adding the valves. I used thick-walled food-grade buckets last time I built waterers, and this didn’t happen. The system still worked just fine, but I’ll use thicker-walled buckets next time.
What features do you need in a DIY chicken waterer with nipples? Has this article inspired you to build one? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Backyard Poultry — A Natural and Sustainable Flock — and regularly vetted for accuracy.