I’m of the opinion that chickens do better in large numbers; dozens of hens hanging out together, just like their eggs. Gangs, armies, fantastic flocks of fowl, hustling about the barnyard, grassy pastures, and all along the fence lines. Community chickens. Chickenopolis. More chickens, more eggs. More roasted chicken. More chicken and dumplings. More chicken stock, chicken enchiladas, chicken tetrazzini.
You get the picture: Plenty of farm-raised chicken for you and the family. The correct number and balance here at my farm seems to be around 25 hens and a couple of roosters. But I’m always in the market for a few more chickens. Got any for sale?
Once you find yourself surrounded by 20 or 30 chickens, you’ll need to help them out with a source of clean water, supplemental food, and a place to lay their eggs and stay safe at night. Even though I have a few cocky birds that go off the chicken grid here once in a while – a rooster and two hens sometimes camp out at night when their extreme free-ranging nature carries them deep into the woods – I still like to provide a friendly habitat for the rest of the gang. They could possibly be outnumbered by predators out here where I’m located. Coyotes love chicken enchiladas. Dang coyotes.
You can go about your day refilling water buckets (as they get tipped over) and water troughs (as they are fouled regularly) to make sure your feathered friends have plenty of fresh drinking water, or you can set up a constant flow of H2O for the thirsty little cluckers. Where might you get such a life-giving gadget? Well, Tractor Supply Co., Atwoods, your local feed store, even online at sites like www.FarmTek.com – they all sell watering systems and water bottles for use with almost every species of livestock, chickens included. However, the price tag might ruffle a few feathers if your chickens are on a dirt farmer’s budget like mine. (If my chickens and I owned a chicken supply website, we’d have a much fancier watering system, and possibly fancier chickens, but don’t tell these hens – they’re already looking for an excuse to take a day off from egg laying.)
So, in the absence of a dot-com windfall, I made my own chicken watering system using spare PVC, a dozen water nipples, roofing tin and screws, a 100-gallon tank, and few spare parts. And it works just fine, at a fraction of the price. More money for more chickens. See where I’m headed?
I’m sure your chickens already love you, but with a constant flow of fresh water, they’re going to really thrive. Here’s the DIY instructions for a setup similar to mine, with the capability to supply eight chickens fresh water all at once.
Understand that this watering system could have thousands of different shapes and sizes, applications, and coops or barns to match up with, not to mention the possibility of using all secondhand parts, pilfered from dumpsters, trash heaps, and that pile of junk out back of the hay barn. Whatever you already have, or can get for free, use it. If you find a 12-foot stick of 1-inch PVC, use it and buy PVC parts in 1-inch size instead of 3⁄4-inch. If you have a 20-gallon water tank, use it; just alter your rain catchment and the height of your water tank stand to match the height of your coop’s eve. The water tank needs to be short enough to fit under your coop (barn, shed, house, garage, etc.) roof eve, but also elevated above ground at least 18 inches. This makes room for the overhead water feeder pipes out into the chicken yard, barn or coop.
For those starting from scratch, begin by sizing up your coop, barn or box – as long as there’s a roof, you can catch rainwater in your water tank from that roof. My coop is 4-feet-by-8-feet-by-4-feet and elevated 3 feet off the ground. A shed roof runs toward the 8-foot back side and into a rain gutter, which is attached to the coop. Use the proper brackets and/or roofing screws to attach the gutters to your coop (I screwed the gutters right to the coop on mine). Attach a downspout to the gutter nearest the water tank. Measure the length between the downspout and the tank filler hole. Try to keep the tank close to the coop so you won’t need a long length of pipe to connect the two. Attach one end of the connecter pipe to the downspout, then place the other end over the top hole in your tank. Attach a downspout to the tank end of the pipe. Now, rainwater will run off the coop roof, into the gutter, through the pipe and into the tank. Also, it’s best to attach a screen cover over the top tank hole, or fill in the opening around the rainwater downspout with something so nothing sneaks into the tank, clogging the pipes and fouling your chicken’s water.
Now that you have a tank full of fresh rainwater and a flock of thirsty birds, a delivery system with easy access for the chickens is needed. PVC pipe and fittings are the cheapest parts you can buy and there are usually discounted bits and pieces available from most home improvement stores, especially your local hardware dealer. Shop with Mom and Pop and you’ll likely be made aware of many steals and deals.
Chickens could be drinking gallons of water at night, but I doubt it. Every time I peek in on them they look at me like my ex-wife did when I woke her up an hour before the alarm clock went off. Chickens do like to hang out inside their coop on cold or rainy days, so I added a pipe from the water tank to inside their coop with two drinking nipples they can access any time they need a drink. Just to be safe, I drilled a few small holes in the floor of the coop beneath the nipples in case the inside pipe or nipples get broken, so spilled water can drain out of the coop. If your birds are in a big barn, they’ll be safe from any spillage.
Extending in the opposite direction from the coop off a PVC T, the pipe runs for 8 feet across the coop fenced area, 1 foot above ground. The nipples hang at 1 foot intervals along the length of the PVC pipe. To build the watering stations along the pipe, prepare all your lengths of PVC pipe first, gather up all the Ts, the end caps, and however many nipples you need for your flock. For my version, we’re using seven outside stations, and one inside the coop.
Cut eight pieces of pipe to 10-inch lengths. Assemble with watering nipples, and you’re in business.
Now that you have infinite watering capacity, you just might need some more chickens. Maybe get an incubator and start hatching chicks? Yep, gonna need a couple of broody hens too, for natural hatching … anyway that’s another story. But seriously, y’all gotta get with the “Community Chickens” program.
Suggested Parts List
• 12 feet of 3⁄4-inch PVC pipe (two 6-feet sections will work and fit into your Jeep Liberty or pickup truck bed.)
• Ten 3/4-inch PVC caps
• Nine 3/4-inch PVC Ts
• One 3/4-inch collar
• One 3/4-inch PVC compression valve
• One 3/4-inch PVC drain valve
• One 3/4-inch PVC to standard pipe fitting (check your water tank for the threaded size PVC fitting you’ll need.)
• PVC glue and cleaner
• 12 water nipples for poultry (local feed stores, Tractor Supply, FarmTek, etc.)
• Rain gutters (to fit your chicken coop)
• Gutter downspouts (2 or 3 according to coop roof style – shed or gable)
• Gutter pipes (lengths to fit, from coop to top filler hole of barrel)
• Screen (to cover the top filler hole of water tank)
• Roofing screws
• Pipe thread tape
• Water tank (size to fit top of tank under roof of coop, but 10 inches higher than floor of coop if possible; bottom drain hole must be sized to fit 3/4-inch PVC from standard pipe threads)
• Water tank stand (for positioning tank at side of elevated coop or alongside barn)
Robert “RD” Copeland is a do-it-yourselfer extraordinaire, with plenty of rural ingenuity. He and his friends have built homemade wind generators, aquaponics gardens, portable solar water hearts, and more. He raises grassfed beef and free-range chickens, and is a routine exhibitor and workshop presenter at our MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS.