Make It Your Own: Steve’s Garden Coop and DIY chicken watering system, Seattle, Washington

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Steve H. in Seattle sent in pictures of his completed Garden Coop along with instructions for making a homemade chicken nipple waterer. The rest of this post comes straight from Steve:

» UPDATE: We now offer push-in poultry nipples as well as fully assembled nipple waterers. Have a look!


Building a backyard coop using plans

Building The Garden Coop

I enjoyed building the coop and am enjoying the chickens even more. The plans were great. While I have some experience building, the plans freed me up from having to do any framing calculations, which alone was worth the price.

Tool rack added to the side of The Garden CoopI added a tool storage rack fashioned from a 2×8 and some old railroad spikes attached to the right side of the coop. It’s under the overhang, so the tools stay dry, and I can always find them (at least in theory). I also made some finish changes (bigger egg door, full access door on left side, different ramp, out-swinging door, etc.).

Nipple Waterer for Backyard Chickens

I designed and made a very simple watering system that makes the urban chicken farmer’s life a lot simpler. Below is a photo of the nipples in action. (Or watch a brief video here.) If you push the metal pin at the bottom at any angle, water dribbles out.

DIY Chicken Waterer Plans

What you’ll need:

  • Three watering nipples
  • A five-gallon bucket
  • 8 to 10 feet of 3/4 inch PVC pipe
  • Two PVC elbows, a cap, and a coupler
  • Watertight fitting to connect the pipe to the bucket. A full-service hardware store can hook you up with what you need for this.
  • A post. I used a cedar pole salvaged from a downed tree, but any post will do.

Putting it together. Set a post outside the coop. Cut three pieces of pipe as shown. Drill a hole in the bucket. Connect the pipe to the bucket with the watertight fitting. Drill small holes (size determined by the nipples you purchase) in the length of pipe that will extend into the coop and insert the nipples into the holes. Assemble the pieces and fill with water.

You need some support to hold up the first elbow downstream from the bucket. I used a piece of fishing line. Also, attach the pipe inside the coop to the underside of the henhouse. A nylon slip tie and a piece of string should work.

Support the pipe with fishing wireHow well does it work? It works great. The water is always clean and lasts weeks. The chickens adjusted to drinking from the nipples in less than a day. “Training” them was definitely not necessary. They eventually figured it out. I’m told that the chickens are attracted by the red color. I left a regular waterer in the coop for a couple of weeks just in case, but they didn’t seem to be using it. So now it’s all nipples, all the time.

Cost. Maybe 10 bucks excluding shipping of the nipples.

Cleaning. After a while I saw a small amount of green algal growth at the bottom of the bucket. I didn’t use any glue in assembling the system – i.e., it’s all pressure fit. Every two weeks or so, I detach the pipe from the coupling at the bucket, wash the bucket out, set it back on the post, reattach the pipe, and refill the bucket. Takes five minutes.

Height of bucket. My original thought was to attach some sort of platform to the back of the coop itself, and I did want it high enough to create enough water pressure at the nipples. But I used a five-foot cedar pole that I cut and stripped from a tree that came down a couple of winters ago. An unintended benefit is aesthetics. Looking at the coop from the front or the side, you cannot see the bucket!

—Steve H., Seattle, Washington

A big thank you to Steve for sharing photos and video of his chicken coop and his ideas on building a DIY nipple waterer. Comments? Ideas to share? Let us know with a reply below. And take a look at our pre-made chicken waterers and DIY push-in poultry nipples here.

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42 Responses to “Make It Your Own: Steve’s Garden Coop and DIY chicken watering system, Seattle, Washington”

  1. Derek says:

    Yeah the bucket waterer, where did you get your fitting that goes into the bucket? I went to my local Lowe’s and didn’t have any luck finding anything. Can you please help?

  2. rachel says:

    We just made waterer out of poultry nipples and a 5 gallon bucket. The concept is great but the hens are not using it. It has been 4 days. They have stopped laying eggs.

  3. Bob in Florida says:

    Solution for reducing pressure from water source: For a nipple system, instead of using a pressure regulator, connect your water source to a reservoir with a float valve. Size does not matter. Place the tank above the pipe with the nipple level. Gravity will keep just enough pressure to make the nipples work and not drip.

  4. Alvin says:

    Use heat tapes, such as used on trailer homes for keeping water lines from freezing, in the cold months. You can also use them to wrap buckets. They have a thermostat built in.

  5. These are a great time saver but keeping your water clean and free of debris is the huge advantage.

    We’re looking at a solution for heating and auto watering from a faucet with these two ideas.

    http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/651102/my-pvc-true-auto-waterer
    http://www.amazon.com/M-D-Building-Products-4309-Thermostat/dp/B0006VAMRE/ref=pd_sxp_grid_pt_1_0

  6. Patrick Hopp says:

    Hello, I am looking into setting up a better watering system in my barn. To help combat freezing, I was thinking about having a submersible pump in the bottom of the drum, pushing water through the line and having a return line draining back into the drum. The barn is quite long and the plan is to have several pens along the back wall. Will the nipples still work if there is a low amount pressure of water constantly running through it? Thanks.

  7. Kathy says:

    My husband built one of these waterers for my chickens. I love it. Water is clean. The only thing I am having trouble with is that the nipples keep dripping and it’s always wet underneath. Any suggestions? Different nipples?

    • Kathy, wet spots beneath the waterer could be a number of things, but faulty nipples are not the first thing I typically suspect. First, check that there are no leaks in the waterer itself or around the nipples — that is, there could be a problem with how they were attached. You can check this by filling the waterer, drying the outside thoroughly, and hanging it over a dry spot of concrete (or paper or cardboard) for an hour or so, away from the chickens.

      If there’s a leak or faulty nipple mechanism, you should be able to tell fairly soon, as there will be water dripping out somewhere. If there’s not, then the wet spots you’re seeing under your waterer are normal. Some chickens are more efficient drinkers than others, but almost always there’s a percentage of drops that don’t make it into their mouths and drip to the ground instead. You can play with the height of the waterer to reduce this, raising it perhaps so that the water drips out more directly down into their mouths. All told, there’s still significantly less waste than with an open waterer.

      Hope this helps.

  8. Gary Johnson says:

    In California, when plumbers replace toilets, they must be low-volume units. It seems to me, you could hang the tank part of an old toilet, complete with valve — high pressure — and seal the bottom hole. You could use silicon to seal it. Drill a hole and put a fitting that will connect to a garden hose. I’m sure any plumber would give you the tank unit, and not have to haul it away. Just a thought.

  9. Seth says:

    You could probably setup the thing in a toilet tank that automatically regulates that water to regulate the water in the bucket.

  10. jodi says:

    Hey neighbor, my grandfather used to put a small block of wood into any water vessel outside so as to keep the vessel from cracking when temps dip. I don’t know if that might help with the bucket, but it might be worth a try.

  11. Lee says:

    Pressure regulators can be quite spendy and may not be needed if:

    1. you are supplying wtaer to the nipples from a tank, not a tap
    2. the top of the water in the tank is less than 3.5m (17ft) above the nipples

    Explanation: a 3.5m (17ft) height (or head) of water exerts a pressure of 5lb/sq in.

    So in situations where you are supplying the nipples from a tank, as long as the surface level of the water in the tank is less than 17ft above the nipples, youdon’t need a pressure regulator.

    If you are supplying the nipples from a tap and the tap itself is fed from a tank then you would measure from the surface level of the water in the tank that feeds the tank.

    Hope that is all clear.

    Lee

  12. Rachel says:

    Quick question… Have you had any success with ducks using this system? I would love to set up a system for our ducks as well as our chickens. Any info you could provide would be great!

  13. Judy Lies says:

    I just put in the nipple system in a bucket. How long will it take for them to figure it out? It has been a day and a half.

    • Judy, some hens take to nipple waterers quickly, but it can take a few days for others. Stick with it though. What I’ve heard, read, and experienced personally is that they all figure it out eventually. I’m planning to post some tips to the blog sometime soon, so stay tuned.

  14. Ann West says:

    Can you please tell me where I can get 2 of the chicken water nipples. All places I have tried want between 7 & 9 dollars for shipping. Any help will be appreciated. thanks Ann West

  15. Richard says:

    Algae will not grow in the dark. Paint your bucket black (but don’t let is sit in the sun if you do that – the water will be get to hot) or cover it. Also a few drops of bleach will purify your water and inhibit the algae growth without harming the chickens.

  16. Jenny says:

    I am not quite getting how the pipe attaches to the bucket. I don’t have a drill bit that would make a 3/4″ hole for the pipe itself to go it. So what is a “watertight fitting” and how big is the hole?

    • Jenny, I believe the fitting you need will be called a PVC bulkhead fitting. You’ll drill the hole accommodate that fitting, the size of which will depend on the pipe diameter you’re using.

  17. ryan says:

    Do you have to caulk the connection in between the nipples and the PVC?

    • Ryan, the push-in style nipples Steve used come with a rubber or silicone grommet. You drill the hole, insert the grommet, then as you insert the nipple, it pushes against the grommet to create a watertight seal.

  18. Jim McArthur says:

    I found a regulator at flemingoutdoors.com for under thirty bucks, going to give it a try since I already have my coop plumbed

  19. Michelle Bowen says:

    I just found these and they have cheap shipping. A pack of 5 for 10.00 and shipping to where I live is only 3.29. You have to scroll to the bottom of the page.

  20. Karen says:

    What height do the nipples need to be at for full-grown hens?

    • Karen, set them a bit above the level of their heads. That way, the water can trickle right down into their mouths. It’s okay to set the nipples lower, say, at eye level, but not much lower than that.

  21. Joe says:

    Monte, do the screw-in nipples just drip constantly? How do the chix access the water if they dont push in the nipple? Is there a specific name for these nipples? Where did you get them? Thanks.

  22. Bob says:

    Automation is a great idea, but remember, unless you are running a commerial egg production operation, you should visit with your chickens, see how things are going in and around the coup, give them feed, see if they are healthy or diseased or injured, laying in the nests have a clean environment, etc. These tasks are not easily automated so you have to spend time with your chickens. It is all about observing and enjoying them, so beyond improving the quality of the water, don’t be shy about manually filling the water tank. It gives you the opportunity to inspect their water supply and make sure it is healthy and flowing. You should inspect your coup and chickens every day or so to be sure they in good condition.
    Also, it is a good idea to use a black plastic bucket or stainless container where no light can pass through. This prevents the growth of agae which needs light to grow.

  23. Monte says:

    I use a fish tank hearter in my buckets. Our temps only get down to around 15 degrees, and we’ve had no problems. I figured if I did have problems, I would consider wrapping the pipes with heat tape and a little insulation. I use 3/4 inch PVC pipe SCH 40.

    Our old metal waterers froze solid all the time.

    Will never go back to using the old style watering system.

    If you do want to get fancy and make it more automated you can technically put a toilet bowl filling mechanism in and as the water gets too high the water will cut off. I personally just fill the buckets.

  24. Lisa says:

    You can get a pressure regulator at a hardware store that sells drip irrigation supplies. They need to be on a little bit lower pressure as well. You just attach them to the hose before you attach the waterer..

  25. MJ says:

    I am looking to go to the nipple system. Has anyone found a reliable inexpensive pressure regulator that works?

  26. Tim says:

    Do you have a pressure regulator that you recommend? I just ordered the water nipples. I am trying to connect to the garden hose but am in need of a pressure regulator. Any help will be great.

    Tim

  27. Hana says:

    I keep seeing this system using a 5-gallon bucket. Would it be possible to bypass the bucket and hook the pvc directly to a water source? Would there be an issue with water pressure? I currently use a bucket that is filled by a float valve (much like a swamp cooler). Unfortunately, the water needs to be changed every couple of days, which makes the whole setup pretty useless…

  28. Steve told me he did have some issues with freezing this winter, but he’s working on a fix and will send pics. I’ll be sure to post when he sends.

  29. Darin says:

    How do you keep the system from freezing up in the winter?
    Darin

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