In this tutorial, I show you how to make a clean, efficient nipple waterer for your chicks using a push-in poultry nipple and a couple of easy-to-find items. If you’d rather not do this yourself, you can purchase one of our ready-to-use Brooder Bottles here.
Why use a nipple waterer in your brooder?
When you commit to raising baby chicks, you’re signing on for a certain amount of mess — poop, soiled bedding, dust, spilled feed. But there’s one source of mess in the brooder you don’t have to live with.
In an open dish waterer, the water is just that — open. It’s open to chicks climbing in it, pooping in it, kicking bedding into it. In the confines of a brooder, this happens all the time, which means you have to replace the water in their drinker quite frequently to keep it full and fresh.
With a nipple waterer, your chickens’ drinking water is sealed in its container until needed. When a chick, pullet, or full-grown chicken pecks at the nipple, the water is released for them to drink, just a few drops at a time. What this means is a cleaner, drier brooder, and potentially fewer changes for you.
A pop-ular solution
You could use an old soda pop or juice bottle to make a nipple waterer for your chicks. That’s what we did a couple years ago. You drill a hole into the cap, insert the push-in nipple, then punch a small air hole in the bottom of the bottle (to prevent a vacuum from forming when in use). To fill, you put your thumb over the air hole, pour in the water, screw on the cap, then hang the bottle capside down in the brooder. Sounds easy enough, and it works as far as the bottle goes.
But how do you hang a soda bottle? There are no handles to hook on to. No loops to string wire through. You could create some kind of holder out of an old wire hanger — or, as we did, fashion a harness using an old shoelace, a key ring, and a screw. MacGyver woulda been proud.
A better way?
There had to be one. I visited pet stores, conferred with fellow chicken owners, sketched some designs. Still, nothing had the simplicity I was looking for. To clear my head, I decided to go for a ride. . .
And there it was.
Think about it: a bicycle water bottle is the perfect size for a chick brooder, it’s food-safe, and it comes with its own simple, lightweight mounting device. What’s more, the price is right, you can find them just about anywhere, and with the nozzle open, you already have the air hole you need at the top.
All that’s left to do is drill a hole in the bottom, insert a poultry nipple, and mount it inside a brooder!
Here’s what you need to easily turn your own bicycle water bottle into a nipple waterer for your chicks:
- Bike water bottle
- Water bottle cage
- Push-in poultry nipple (available here)
- Two ¾” screws
- Small flat piece of wood (I use a small ½” thick piece of hardwood) as a backing plate if you’re attaching to a wire cage or plastic or cardboard wall
- Power drill
- Drill bit (Size will depend on the nipples you purchase. If you get your poultry nipples from TheGardenCoop.com, you need a 3/8” drill bit.)
Put your water bottle in the water bottle cage and mark an spot on the bottom of the bottle that is unobstructed by the cage. Ideally, this will be right in the center.
Remove the bottle from the cage and drill a hole in the bottom of the bottle. You want the hole to be as clean as possible — no nicks or burrs. Use the size drill bit recommended for the particular poultry nipples you have. (If you purchase your nipples from TheGardenCoop.com, the drill bit size should be 3/8″.)
Insert the grommet that comes with your push-in poultry nipple.
Then moisten and insert the nipple carefully into the grommet. This may be a tight fit, so don’t force it or do a lot of twisting.
Here’s a view of the nipple from the inside. Check to make sure the grommet is not torn and that the seal looks good.
Find the proper height for mounting the water bottle cage (scroll down for details) and attach your water bottle cage to the wall or frame of your brooder. If your brooder is solid wood, you can screw directly into it.
If the walls of your brooder are made of wire (see our brooder cages), cardboard, plastic, or other thin material, use a backing board. You may need to pre-drill a couple of small starter holes in the board to accept the screws. With the bottle cage on the inside and the backer board on the outside, screw through the wall into the backer board and tighten until secure.
Fill the waterer with fresh water, attach the cap, then — this is important — open the nozzle. This allows air to flow into the bottle as the water is trickled out, preventing a vacuum from forming that would stop the flow of water.
What is the proper height for mounting a nipple waterer?
Hang your waterer so that the nipples are just above your chickens’ heads. If you can’t get it quite that high, a little lower will be fine. Chickens have to raise their necks to swallow. One of the nice things about a nipple waterer is that the water comes from above, trickling right into your chicks’ mouths when they drink.
Of course, your chicks will be growing rapidly, so you may want to mount your waterer higher at first and provide a platform (a wood block or two will do) for the birds to stand on when they are small. Also do this if you have birds of different heights sharing a single waterer.
Will chicks really take to a nipple waterer?
Chicks can be started on nipples in the first few days after hatching, but if you bought your chicks at a store or by mail order, give them a day or two with a dish waterer first to make sure they are fully recovered from the stress of their journey.
Most chickens figure out the nipples on their own within minutes. Gallus gallus domesticus will peck at anything, and the red casing is especially attractive to them. Once they notice that water flows from the nipples, they’re trained. Keep in mind, poultry nipples have been used in commercial chicken operations for years and are becoming more and more popular among backyard chicken keepers for the same reasons. They work!
If you’ve found this tutorial helpful or if you have any questions or tips, let me know in the comments below. If you need push-in poultry nipples or would rather just buy a ready-to-use Brooder Bottle, we offer those here, along with ready-made full-sized waterers.