DIY Rainwater Chicken Watering System
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There are many options for building a chicken watering system. A search on DIY or homemade chicken waterers turns up loads of pictures and plans. While there is no absolute best waterer for chickens; you’ll need to decide which aspects of a chicken watering system are important to you. On our farm, this was two-fold.
Water collection – We don’t have access to municipal water at the back of our property where the birds reside so the system had to collect rainwater.
Efficiency – We have 200 chickens which consume a lot of water; minimizing the time and labor involved in getting all that water to the birds was essential.
Once we established our goals, we set about designing a collection system on the back of our workshop and an automatic chicken watering system in the coop. First, let’s look at some things to consider for a chicken watering system.
Planning for Your Chicken Watering System
Do you want a system for just collection or one that’s fully automated? If you have a small flock, perhaps you enjoy the interaction you have with your birds. In this case, maybe you simply need a way to collect and store water. If you have a large flock or have other commitments that occupy your time, then you might consider some degree of automation in your chicken watering system.
Your next consideration is how much water your birds use. The key word here is use because not only do your birds drink their water, but there’s bound to be some spillage and dirty water you have to dump. Observe how much water you are actually going through, keep notes, and when in doubt round up! When thinking through this step, be sure to think about dry spells too. They may not happen regularly in your area but if you don’t anticipate them you may find yourself hauling water from another source. This is also a good time to plan ahead. If you think your flock may grow in the future, your chicken watering system should either be sized accordingly or designed so that expansion is simply adding on to the system you’ve already built. We chose the latter.
What is your source of water? For most people this is rainwater; this article will focus on collecting it.
How are you going to collect water and more importantly, where are you going to store it? Naturally, you’ll want both collection and storage to be as close to the coop as practical. If you plan on running water lines into the coop will these lines be buried? If you are in an area that regularly sees freezing temperatures, you should be worried about frozen lines. We choose to winterize our system during January and February, the cost and difficulty of keeping our system fully functional during those months outweighed the benefit.
Determining the location of your water storage is important because it impacts your materials list. For example, if you can elevate your water storage, gravity can work for you delivering the water into the coop. This can save money and complexity by eliminating the need for a pump. If gravity is not an option and you desire to pump water into your coop, you are going to need electricity. We were lucky to have electricity available at our site; that is not the case for our duck house.
Enter solar. For our duck house, we are building a system that runs a 12-volt pump instead of one that runs on household current. This saves money by eliminating some necessary equipment to convert the electricity from DC to AC.
Lastly, maintenance is a consideration. As the complexity ramps up so does the likelihood that things will break. Periodic cleaning should be a part of your chicken watering system. As we discuss our system, we will point out some areas that have caused us trouble in the past read: learn from our mistakes.
Our Chicken Watering System
Our chicken coop is situated next to a 24 x 32-foot workshop. Both have a metal roof and the coop is about the same size as the workshop. Either roof would have supplied more than enough water for our chicken watering system. We chose the workshop because power was readily available, and the gutters flowed in the direction we needed.
We estimated a single, 250-gallon IBC tote would be adequate for our rainwater harvesting needs although we can expand if necessary. We scrounged a container and some free railroad ties to support the container, pump, and a few other pieces to the system. If you use IBC totes for water storage, make sure they weren’t used to store hazardous chemicals in their former life.
Using the railroad ties, we created a base for the container. We disconnected the existing downspouts on the workshop gutters and installed 4-inch PVC pipe to channel the water into the tank. It doesn’t take much rain to collect 250 gallons of water from the workshop roof, so we realized early on that we needed to do something with the excess. We tied an overflow pipe into the existing drains that lead to a nearby stream. Problem solved.
Although our workshop is at a higher elevation than the coop, it wasn’t high enough to have a gravity fed system. We also wanted to use the water for cleaning and irrigating our garden, so a pump was a necessary addition for us.
We purchased the required plumbing pieces to connect the water pump to the container, then wired it up. The pump is housed in a small box with a 40-watt light bulb that keeps it from freezing in winter. In the summer, we remove the bulb.
We also purchased an expansion tank, check valve, and pressure switch — items used in well-water systems. These additional pieces meant we could fill the waterers in the coop or irrigate the garden without first having to go to the tank to turn on the pump. For us, the modest up-front cost was worth the convenience.
We used black polyurethane, buried several feet in the ground, to get water into the coop. Once inside the coop, the line feeds water into three separate water tanks. We used six-inch PVC pipe to build the U-shaped tanks, each calculated to hold about nine gallons of water.
Even with 200 chickens, these three tanks provide several days reserve, a nice feature to have. We use chicken nipples on our waterers spaced about eight inches apart. The system works well, save for a stuck nipple which can drain a tank quickly.
Maintenance is an important consideration. Periodically we completely drain the collection tank and those in the coop to clean them of sediment and any algae. Our turnover rate is fairly high so we rarely need to worry about algae; however, algae needs sunlight to survive so make sure the storage tanks are protected from the sun. To drain the collection tank, we simply open the water faucet and let the water run into the yard. We drain the water tanks in the coop through a clear tube connected to the lowest point of each tank. Normally these hang vertically next to the tanks to show us the water level inside each. When we want to drain a tank, we lower the hose to the ground and gravity does the rest. You could also simply remove a few nipples from each tank and let the water drain.