First a confession: I am a gadget-project type of guy, meaning I tend to make things using the best design I can think up despite the overall cost. I always like to re-use something I already have laying around, but I also derive personal satisfaction in producing something that fully solves most or all the shortcomings of whatever it was I was using previously.
That being said, I got tired of cleaning out the water fount. The chooks like to take dust baths and no matter what I did, they would manage to kick debris into the fount. The fount also seemed to take up a lot of space in my chicken tractor, not to mention that if I moved the tractor I would have to take the fount out and then put it back in. An attached, enclosed watering system is what I really needed.
So, I came up with a simple PVC waterer I call the Water Cross. It uses 2" PVC pipe and fittings, a BriteTap nipple waterer, and an immersible aquarium water heater. It is attached to the hen house, so moves with the coop, and is also filled from outside the coop.
The Water Cross is attached to the hen house with three pipe hangers and holds almost exactly one gallon of water. This is enough for about one week for our four hens. I did not want too much water capacity as I thought it would cause the water to go stagnant and scuz up in the summer heat. The water fill is outside the coop for convenience.
I drilled a PVC end plug to accept a BriteTap nipple waterer. I liked the design of the BriteTap, but you could just as well buy your own nipples and tap them into a length of PVC pipe directly. I used a 50 watt aquarium water heater that is fully immersible (not all are). It is set on its lowest heat setting and plugged in to a thermocube, so it only comes on in near freezing conditions. The heater I bought also will cut off if run dry to keep it from burning out if the waterer is empty for some reason. Since I am such a gadget nerd I bought a one foot piece of clear PVC so I can see the heater and also monitor water level when it gets low.
I cut a slot at the top of the Water Cross for the heater cord to pass out and also allow use of an end cap to keep out dust. The small gap where the cord exits is the only hole necessary to allow air into the waterer.
So, the Water Cross has eliminated my daily fount cleaning chore. It is also attaches to the coop tractor so moves with it, is filled from outside, and has anti-freeze protection. It should also be fairly easy to clean when necessary because of the removable filler and heater end caps. You can very easily customize this design to fit your coop and water capacity needs. Here is a list of items used on this waterer and some prices:
2" PVC Pipe Schedule 40 (one 10' piece)
2" Clear PVC Pipe Schedule 40 UV rated (one foot piece) - $7.81 + shipping, FlexPVC.com
BriteTap Waterer - $29.95 + shipping, chickenwaterer.com (deleted in design update)
Hydor THEO Submersible Aquarium Heater 50W - $20.79 with shipping, Amazon.com
Thermocube - $12.50, Amazon.com
(1) Cross Tee, (1) 45 Elbow, (3) End Caps (plugs), (1) 90 Slip Elbow, (2) Adaptors, (1)Threaded Plug, (2) Couplings, (3) pipe hangers
Ok, so this may be the world's most expensive chicken watering device, but I hope this still gives you some ideas about an attached watering system for your chicken tractor!
The waterer as shown above did well down to the mid-20's F. However, we had a cold spell here with temps dipping into the upper teens...and the nipples froze up. No water froze above the heater, so I believe it was the isolated location of the Brite Tap combined with the fact that warm water rises which caused the freezing. I fixed this problem by cranking up the setting on the heater to full blast and placing pipe insulation around the Brite Tap as seen in the picture below. However, once the weather gets warmer I will probably replace the Brite Tap with a piece of PVC pipe tapped with nipples. Then I will place the aquarium heater directly above the nipples which should keep them from freezing no matter how cold it gets.
Design Modification Update:
I've had this water in use since last winter and it has been great - I can fill it from outside the coop and it only needs a flush and cleaning every month or so, if that. Since winter is approaching, I have changed the design to alleviate the water freezing at the nipple issue I had last time temps got in the low 20's. I replaced the Brite Tap with just a regular piece of clear PVC with a clean-out plug. Now I can place the aquarium water heater directly above the nipple. I think this may keep the whole waterer ice-free, but if not, I am prepared to place a second heater higher up, near the junction of the cross. We'll see how things go this winter and I will keep you updated. I guessing at least one of my hens will figure out that they get a foot warmer roosting spot right here when it gets really cold!