Poultry Watering Nipple Roundup

As part of implementing our pastured poultry operation, a prototype¬† movable shelter was constructed. The watering system for the birds is typically integrated into the shelter’s design so it moves with the pen. I tried several different solutions to provide water to our chickens and finally arrived at some conclusions about what works best for our East Texas farm.

Chicken Water poultry stainlessI had previously built a simple 4 station pipe attached with garden hose to a 30 gallon food grade barrel. I used the yellow Saddle Style Oasis Poultry Water Nipples on the right. They are made to fit over 3/4″ pipe and if you drill the hole perfectly (i.e. with a drill press and clamps to hold the pipe) they don’t need glue or silicone to hold them in place. This worked well for a while in a family member’s coop and run setup, until one of them fell out and drained the reservoir.

At close to $3 a piece, they are well made and work fairly well, but the price and that failure after 6 months ruled them out for a pasture shelter that’s going to get constantly moved around.

The Bell Waterer

Bell DrinkerWhen it came time to develop a watering system for my pasture shelters, I looked at what Joel Salatin was using, which is the $40 bell waterer. Joel likes these because you can drive/walk by and

Dirty Bell water

Dirty Bell water

see if they are working by looking for water in the trough. I bought one from the local feed store and initially hooked it up to a water hose. These units have a float inside that works very similar to your toilet. There are a couple of channels designed to keep the water clean and working properly inside, and the water flows out through a couple of small slits.

The fittings that came with it were cheap, the hose kept slipping off, the plastic part that attaches to the garden hose eventually broke, and I spent another $10 in brass fittings and hose clamps to fix it. I later attached it to a gravity fed bucket system.

So it worked, seemed reliable, and I didn’t like it. Every day when I came out to move the pen, it was filled with grass, dirt and chicken manure. I would tip it on the side to dump this out, but that wastes a lot of water and it’s still a bit dirty. It also requires breaking it down and cleaning out the inside occasionally.In the brooder, they work fine until the chickens start their instinctive scratching behavior. Then in a matter of minutes they are filled with dirt, pine shavings, and chicken manure (see image) I want my birds to have clean water that I myself would drink, and this was clearly not the solution.

The Cheap FixCheap Poultry Nipple

After a couple months of trialing the bell waterer and ruling it out, I decided to go back to the poultry nipples. I went to Amazon and found what looked like a fairly good watering nipple that was cheap to boot!

For 20 bucks, I got about 50 delivered from China (about 6-8 weeks later!). I put about 10 of these on a 10 ft long 3/4″ pipe. I couldn’t get them watertight with the tiny threads so I pulled the gasket and siliconed them in place. Make sure you wait 24 hours anytime you use silicone so it can cure before you add water or put it in front of your animals.

This system worked okay for a few days. Some of my chickens know all you have to do to get water is to go up and gently tap the steel nipple and drink. Some of my chickens think the only way to get water is to go up and bite the shit out of it while twisting and turning their head and generally thrashing about.  Well as you may have guessed, they eventually started ripping them out of the pipe, draining the bucket. These were out. Some people have success attaching them to the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket, and hanging the bucket over the chickens. Just not a reliable enough system for me.

The Industry Solution

I looked at what the commercial chicken houses use for water delivery knowing they would have a highly reliable (though possibly not very clean) water delivery system. I saw everything from drinkers with cups under them to create a small pool to drink from, to square tubing so the nipples could easily be thread into the pipe. What it all had in common was the bankruptcy pricing common in confinement chicken house operations.

The cup drinkers were $10-20 each! (multiplied by 100 and that adds up) The square tubing was costly, and by the time I added up the square to round adapters and other fittings, it was all too expensive.

What Finally Worked

I ordered 2 more poultry nipples that were a different style. Unlike the others they wrapped around the pipe and clamped on. These are the two in the top and left of the original picture. I first tried installing them with the rubber gaskets, and some of them leaked. I then removed the gaskets and used silicone (allowing 24hrs to cure) and it seems to work like a charm.

Now these are not perfect. They have a ratchet in system vs 1 set of hooks. Seems to me if your designing it for schedule 40 pipe you would design it to fit properly. They don’t. The ones with the drinker cups below them are made for 1/2 inch pipe, but have a larger hole required to tap the pipe.That means if you’re not using a drill press ,forget it, you will never get them straight in a line to hold water in the cup.

I used a pair of vice grips to set the proper distance on the clamps. This made it easy to repeat the clamping process. However, some of the nipples simply would not stay on the tightest set of teeth. All of them showed stress marks where the plastic discolored because it was stretched in the clamping process. These may break down the road, but they have held up very well for the last 2 months – weathering several freezes in that time.

Other Considerations

I still have no great solution for freezing temperatures. Being in East Texas it’s a minor problem, but with the ice age setting in this year (Winter 2013-2014), it’s been a major pain in the ass. Right now I have to bring out fresh water in a bowl several times a day when the temperature drops. Salatin brings his chickens into heated hoop houses during the winter months, which is a bit hypocritical selling fresh pastured eggs when it’s really a confinement operation for 3 months out of the year.

The 5 gallon bucket watering system

Everyone seems to use this. Here in Texas with 110 degree temps for a month or more – those buckets seem to last a little over a year before cracking as the sun’s UV breaks down the plastic. Instead I’m looking for a tougher bucket. Right now I’m working with a horse feed bucket mounted to the pen. It cost about $18 at Tractor Supply, but it’s thicker. I think it will last a lot longer and end up cheaper than using several five gallon buckets over the years. It’s worth spending some money here to have a reliable system that won’t leave the chickens without water.

I also use a bulkhead fitting, 3/4″ spa-flex hose, and a union on the pipe to the watering nipples. That way I can raise/lower the height. If something goes wrong, I can use the union to take out the bar, and quickly swap it out for a spare.

There are several new versions of poultry nipples coming out of China, and I am watching Amazon for a better solution. I’m sure a better do-dad will come along as they continue innovating and improving their products.

If you have feedback, suggestions or solutions please post them in the comments below!



1 Comment
  1. Good write up. Thank you for sharing. I like the fact that you’re truly trying to make these coops year-round outdoor coops. I also like the fact that you’re making improvements that also add to the chicken’s quality of life, i.e. fresh drinking water.

    Being humane to our feeder animals is something that’s of growing importance in my life.

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