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.
Oh, and if you need coop plans and kits to build a fine home for that growing flock, look no further. You can also subscribe to Coop Thoughts to learn about new posts as they happen.
22 thoughts on “How to make a simple nipple waterer for your chick brooder”
This is such a simple concept but I could not come up with it on my own! Thank you so much for this post! It has made my life much easier!!
To hold my chicken nipple waterer, I slipped an old tube sock over the water bottle and snipped a small hole to let the nipple through. I then hung it by cutting a small hole in the elastic end of the sock and used a carabiner and clipped it to the fence.
Hello, I know this is an older post, but was hoping for some insight as to whether or not anyone has used these successfully with baby quail? I’m just starting out with hatching my eggs and I have tons of babies and mess, this seems like a great solution, but not sure if they could use it because they are so tiny. Any thoughts from those with experience would be appreciated.
Thank you very much for this very clear, detailed tutorial (: It’s a great idea. I am positively inspired to make this for my chicks!
Thank you very much for this! Very resourceful. The explanation of how to determine proper height and how chickens drink was a huge help too. 🙂
I was wondering if you had the plans to build one for larger chickens? I know that I could drill a hole in a bucket, but what to use for an airtight lid?
Leslie, take a look at our poultry nipple waterers. You can make these yourself if you prefer. Any food-safe bucket will work for a container. It may or may not be sold with a lid, so you’ll have to shop around to find what you need. Drill an air hole near the top to prevent a vacuum from forming as the chickens drink. Hang it, and you’re good to go!
How many chicks can one nipple take care of?
Robert, one nipple will suffice for up to 10 chicks.
This idea is so brilliant! Thank you very much for the clear photos and explanation. I’m so glad that I ordered extra nipples from you, along with a waterer for the hens. I had some vague idea about rigging up something for the chicks, but this post solved that dilemma. Very timely! I am going to share the link widely.
Thanks so much! I had planned to use a regular, disposable water bottle but this is a much better idea.
The bicycle water bottle and holder looks as if it was designed to be a nipple waterer for the chicken brooder! So well done. My chicks are one week old. Because I wanted to make sure they would take to the nipple waterer I had bought to use when they go out to the chicken coop, I purchased a one-gallon 2-nipple can and then had to figure how to mount it for them to use. I have it sitting on a plastic container filled with grit at just the right height. After putting the beak of one of the eight chicks under the nipple, it was only a few seconds before they all were taking drinks. I did this on their third day. I also took out their gravity water dish before introducing them to the nipple waterer. If the waterer becomes too unwieldy as the chicks grow I look forward to using your excellent solution. Thank you!
Thanks, Wendy. I’m glad you got the 1-gallon option to work in the brooder!
When I first put the nipple-type waterers that I made in the brooders the chicks were all afraid of them, so I put my hand in and played with the silver pin on them until water dripped out. They all just HAD to come by and inspect it then, and a brave chick started pecking on it. That was all it took, and then they all joined in and starting drinking. It only took about 10 minutes for them to learn. I love how clean the water stays, and I’m sure the chickies do too.
We used rabbit waterers for the brooder and then upgraded to a 5 gallon pail with nipples once they went outside. They seem to get the rabbit waterers just as easily as the nipples.
John, again you have come up with a brilliant solution! I sure wish I had one when I was raising my chicks 2 years ago as they were definitely messy with the regular water dish — I was changing the water many times a day! I will definitely buy one from you when I add chicks to my flock in a couple years!
Deb from Kirkland, WA
This is an awesome post, from your innovative use of this container to the clear directions and lots of good photos. We’ve made nipple waterers from various containers but never thought of using a sturdy bike bottle that comes with its own holder. Great discovery–we’ll share the link!
This is pure genius! I’ve been trying to work something with a juice bottle and wire but it is resembling something from Frankenstein’s lab!
We are bringing home day old chicks from the local hatchery. What do you suggest to get them accustomed to the nipples?
Again – such a simple solution to a difficult problem!
Kathy, let them get accustomed to their new environment for a couple days with a dish waterer. They you can introduce them to a nipple waterer by dribbling a steady drip of water until they notice it and peck at the nipple. You can hold a chick’s head under the flow to speed that process, if you want. Usually after one or two get it, the rest will follow.
Will these work for turkey poults?
Renee, I know people use poultry nipple waterers for turkeys. My guess is that they’d have the same advantages as they do for chickens, I just can’t speak to it from personal experience. Anyone else?