Automatic Water System
October 26, 2019
Since I have grown the number of birds I have, I needed to come up with some time saving ways to feed and water. We came up with PVC feeders that only need topped once a week. To keep clean and fresh water I have gone to using a nipple water system. With these systems I can again top of once a week.
For the water system I use plastic cat litter pails as my reservoir. They hold about 5 gallons of water and are pretty easy to get if you have cats. If you do not have cats you can try a local shelter to see if they can save you some. To get the water into a nipple system I use a bulk head on the cat litter bucket. I tried to use PVC fittings on the inside and outside and constantly fought leaks. The bulkhead is a little more expensive [$11 at Lowe's] but it does the job perfectly. I prefer the smaller bulkheads as they are easier for me to get tightened so they do not leak.
After picking up the bulkhead, head over to the irrigation section and get a 1/2" threaded male adapter. These will easily screw into the ½ inch bulkhead fitting. I actually put the two together in the store to make sure they fit. You will actually need two of these as you will need one for the cat litter bucket and one at the end of the PVC tubing that has the nipples. You will also need a half inch coupling with inside threads for the threaded nipple and the other end a slip to go over your PVC pipe.
To construct the nipple water reservoir, I use a Dremel to make my holes. I take apart the bulkhead and position the bulkhead near the bottom of one side of the bucket. Then I take a sharpie and trace around the inside of the bulkhead. I have multiple attachments for the Dremel and use one that will cut down into the plastic and cut out the hole. You want the hole slightly larger than the bulkhead so it is a snug fit.
Before you put the bulkhead into the bucket you want to put the threaded nipple into the bulkhead. To keep it from leaking you do need put pipe joint compound on the threads before inserting into the bulkhead. I then take some pliers and twist the nipple in snug. Once you have the hose nipple in the bulkhead you can then put the bulkhead in the bucket hole and then tighten it all down.
To create the nipple waterers you will need a 1/2" stick of PVC. Start with an end cap and a section of pipe. I like to have a small piece maybe 2-3 inches in length of pvc before a Tee with a nipple so I have a section I can use to anchor to a support if needed. Then you add a Tee that is 1/2 inch Slip X 1/2 inch Slip X 1/8 inch FPT. I get my Tees on Amazon and like to keep them on hand. I have found I do not need a lot of nipples even in a pen with a lot of birds. I use two nipples per pen and space them about 12 inches apart for adults, about 6 inches for younger birds. I have found the birds all try to use one nipple at a time so two in a pen are usually enough.
After the first Tee I cut a 10-12 inch piece of PVC and insert it into the other end of the Tee. If the pen is for youngsters you can cut a smaller piece about 6 inches in length. Add another Tee, and then a length of pipe and finish off with the coupling that is threaded/slip. A good length for this last piece of PVC is about 6-8 inches in length. You will add the nipple barb to the coupling like you did with the bulkhead. Add some of the pipe joint compound and twist the nipple into the coupling tight with some pliers. I like to put all these pieces together to make sure it is what I want and line up the Tees. Then I stand it up on one end and use a hammer to lightly tap everything tightly together. Since there no pressure in the system, for the most part it should not leak if put together tightly. You can use PVC cement to permanently put it all together if desired.
The water reservoir needs to be higher than where you put the water nipples. In some pens I have built stands. In others pens I have used some old 30-gallon fish tanks I had on hand from my old aquatic hobby. The fish tanks are a perfect height and since I had them they were a low cost option for me. It does not make a difference what is used, you just need to get the bucket higher than the water nipples.
To put it all together you will also need some half inch tubing. I have recently changed to using clear tubing so I can make sure water is getting into the water nipples and I can also keep track of the funk that tends to accumulate in the system. Place your stand with the cat litter bucket on top of it near where you are going to place the water nipples. Then you need to place the water nipples at a height that the chickens can easily reach them. I have hung the nipples on fencing as well as anchored them to a wood wall in in a pen. Having the pieces on each end give you a place to wrap wire or place a band to anchor the nipples where you need them. Where and how ever you hang them make sure the the birds can reach them. Since I run grow outs in with adults during the summer, I also add a piece of log under one of the nipples so smaller birds can reach the nipples as well.
These systems are easy to maintain. I top off buckets once a week for the most part. During the summer I top off again mid week. When I am out in the pens I use a finger and flip the nipples to make sure they are working properly. They can get calcium and other gunk in them and water will stop flowing through them. It takes just a minute to remove one and put another back in its place. It also allows the water to run and remove some of the stuff that can settle near the bottom of the bucket.
To keep algae out of the system you can add a little peroxide to the water. A shot glass size in a full bucket can help to reduce particulates in the water and will not harm the birds. Putting the reservoir in a place where it does not receive direct sun will also help in that area. To clean the system empty out all the water. Then add a small bottle of peroxide and about an inch or two of water and let this run down into the water nipples. Let this sit a while and the peroxide will oxidize the water funk that accumulates in the PVC. Then remove the nipples and flush out the system and rinse with fresh water.
This water system will take less than an hour to put together and will provide clean water to a dozen birds for several days to a week. You do not have constantly clean out water buckets and it takes just a second to look and see when more water needs to be added. When you have a lot of birds, this system is a real time saver.