summer/winter chicken nipple waterer

By Chicken Techie · Oct 4, 2012 · Updated Jan 26, 2014 · ·
  1. Chicken Techie
    I guess the best way to do this is to list all the features then explain how it works and how to build it.

    So here is my winter friendly chicken nipple waterer. it utilizes a 13 gallon family size cooler, a heater, a circulation pump, drain, and insulation.
    incase you didn't know the benefits of chicken nipples, the chickens get cleaner water than a from a bowl, it has much higher capacity than a bowl which results in less maintenance. and with this design should use less power than an uninsulated open bowl water heater.

    this is my storage tank, its a 52 quart (13 gallon) family size cooler. why did i go so big, well i needed a cooler with a drain built in, this saves alot of work when building and raises reliability. off the drain is a supply hose that leads to the pvc that the nipples are on, i used foam pipe insulation to wrap the pipe for winter then duct taped over it all to keep chickens from pecking at the foam and it is another layer of insulation. inside this feed pipe is a smaller pipe that goes all the way to the end of the pvc just before the drain.


    the small pipe inside attaches to the small aquarium pump shown and pumps water down the small tube to the end of the line in the pvc pipe and returns on the outside of the small pipe and inside of the larger pipe back to the cooler.

    during winter as the tiny pump runs i will put this bird bath water heater inside the cooler, its safe to operate directly against plastics and it is thermostatically controlled and only uses 50 watts! between the foam insulation of the pipes and the cooler, freezing shouldn't be a problem.

    since chickens can't catch every drop they get out of the nipples i have a catch tray under the nipples, its a goat feeding trough from tractor supply, works well. at the very end there is a valve and a drain i adapted so a garden hose can be attached easily. i drain it every week or so just to freshen the water.

    So now for the details:
    click the image above to enlarge

    thats how it works, now the nitty gritty on materials and costs.

    cooler is from target, $21
    heater $30 from amazon:

    pump $6 from harbor freight store
    chicken nipples from amazon $14.25, they came with installation instructions:

    3/4" pvc pipe, valve, and fittings about $10-$12 from home depot
    3/4" clear plastic tubing about $10 from home depot, had to but a roll, could have got shorter piece from local ace hardware but didn't know til after
    foam insulation 1 1/2" diameter i believe, under $2 and I had the duct tape
    5/16" clear plastic hose (may vary depending on pump u get) $4 or $5
    goat feeding tray used as excess water catch to keep floor dry $15 at tractor supply
    cooking spray for lubricant, probably a couple bucks a can, i had some in the kitchen
    pvc cleaner and glue, less than $10, i already had them

    wish i had a written instructions but i designed this in my head and didn't write anything down, sorry. thats why i made the diagram in paint.

    To build this amazing waterer:

    1. build the pvc section first, but don't attach nipples to pvc yet. i believe in my pvc section the nipples are on a 24" long piece, drill the 5 holes in a straight line, then use pvc solvent and attach valve and if you so desire an adaptor to drain down a hose if needed in your application.
    2. cut one end of the smaller tubing at an angle, (this helps you feed it down the bigger tube and to not dead head the pump against the valve when built)
    3. spray the smaller tube with cooking spray to lubricate (safe for us, so safe for chickens) and feed it inside the larger tubing, the amount fed is determined by the length of pvc you use and the distance between the cooler and the pvc. you can use more than 5 nipples if needed.
    4. feed enough excess of the small tubing inside the cooler to attach to the pump easily.
    5. attach large tubing to cooler drain and pvc adaptor with hose clamps, then install nipples
    6. make sure valve is closed then fill with water to check for leaks.
    7. wrap piping and pvc from cooler drain all the way down to the valve with foam pipe insulation and wrap in duct tape to prevent chickens from pecking at foam, also blocks cold air from directly touching piping.
    8. mount cooler above pvc pipe height.
    9. attach pump and run for a few minutes to clean pipes then open drain valve and drain/fill a few times to rinse out everything.
    10. fill and add preferred additive to keep water clean. I use 20 drops of 2% lugols iodine with 13 gallons of water, good for humans and chickens.
    11. enjoy very little maintenance of your watering system and healthy chickens.

    I hope this is useful to people, its really not hard to build and the iodine keeps the water very clean. with everything being insulated including the cooler the heater will not have to work as much and save electricity. also during summer you can add blocks of ice to the cooler to chill the water for your feathered friends. if anyone has any questions please don't hesitate to ask, thanks

    >>>>>>> CURRENT VERSION ****************************************************HUGE UPDATE********************************************************************************** Thanks big time to "Rick26" who made far better pictures than i made and here they are below. I did not change the pictures at all but he said to feel free to change or comment on them. They are excellent pictures as you will see: [​IMG] This is a different way to make my waterer and im sure works just fine. Also you can leave all the components in the cooler year round if desired. Remember cooking spray makes a great lubricant for the plastic tubing to go through the pvc. [​IMG] I purchased my cooler at Target because it is a 13 gallon cooler that already has the drain and i find it much easier if it is pre-installed. The thermocube isn't 100% necessary because the bird bath water heater is thermostatically controlled and i prefer to keep the water moving year round to prevent stale water by keeping the pump on. The pump is very power efficient. [​IMG] Great [​IMG] I have taught babies 2 days old to roosters over a year old and they all pick it up quickly, ducks included. Again thanks so much to Rick26 for making these pictures for me to post on this write up. I really appreciate his effort. *****PLEASE READ: 2 THINGS, 1. PLEASE READ ALL THE COMMENTS BELOW, I HAVE GOT A LOT OF THE SAME QUESTIONS AND THIS WILL SAVE YOU TIME. 2. I HAVE RECEIVED A LOT OF PERSONAL MESSAGES ABOUT THIS WATER-ER. THE DOWNSIDE TO THIS IS THAT OTHER PEOPLE DON'T BENEFIT FROM YOUR QUESTIONS OR MY ANSWERS. PLEASE ASK THE QUESTIONS HERE AND NOT ON PERSONAL MESSAGES. ITS BEST FOR EVERYONE*****

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Recent User Reviews

  1. Purple_grape84
    "Clear instructions for a relevant topic"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Mar 25, 2019
    I thought this article has very clear instructions. I live in Canada and wanted to set up water nipples for my chickens, great in summer, but didn't know what to do when winter came. This article give very clear ideas for how to build a winter ready nipple system.
  2. The Farmers' Daughter
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 25, 2018
    I can't wait to give this a try! I believe that horizontal nipples have a lesser chance of freezing, so I'm going to give that a whirl.

    My flock thanks you in advance!
  3. AlderCreekFarms
    "Nice guide"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 23, 2018
    Easy to follow and detailed enough for a novice (like me). Thanks!:thumbsup


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  1. vickivail98
  2. Chicken Techie
    I didn't realize there were these last few comments on here that i hadn't responded to, so here it goes.
    DaveOmak Thanks, I'm lazy when it comes to maintenance, in which i mean i don't want to spend all my time cleaning up or feeding the animals, so i spent the time to design this and its worth it by far. I have since made versions for my goats and making one now for my rabbits. I like your spin on the concept too.

    Eselick I did actually cover the outer pipe with insulation and the reason it is acceptable is that it only happens no more than 3 days a year, I can live with that and when it happens we break out the 1 gallon waterers and problem solved. To cover the pipe in another pipe then hook up a hot air blower just isn't cost effective electricly. The nipples themselves are metal and metal will freeze easily so without making the nipples inaccessible to the chickens you can't freeze proof them perfectly unfortunately. The time they stay frozen depends on the temperature, I have found that they will work as long as its above 10 degrees F in the coop.

    Aart just be carefull that you don't use nipples with the cups, you want a self draining nipple.

    Thanks everyone else for the nice comments, knowing I helped you guys make the time to write it all up worth it..
  3. CandaceID
    I really appreciate @Chicken Techie giving update on results through the first winter using that set-up.
  4. DaveOmak
  5. DaveOmak
  6. aart
    Nice design!
    Dave Omaks build thread got me to this article.
    I like the lack of an exposed return pipe. Have been planning to build one of these for this coming winter but plan on using Horizontal Nipples.....they might work better than the Vertical ones as the seal is inside the vessel, but there may be an interference with an internal supply hose and they can hold a tiny bit of water on the outside if not oriented correctly. We shall see.

    Wonder if you can subscribe to the comments section of articles?
      KSH1 likes this.
    1. KSH1
      How did the horizontal nipples work out?
    2. aart
  7. Family Farming
  8. smoknz28
    Oooh, I'm interested in this. ;-)
  9. eselick
    Sorry about the questions I asked in the previous post about "acceptable" - I just saw the comment about the nipples unfreezing the same day they froze up. That would not be the case here. We had quite a few stretches where the temperature stayed very low for a few days at a time. So I need to figure out a way to keep them from freezing up.
  10. eselick
    Hi Techie
    I live in Canada just across the Vermont border, pretty cold this winter. I've read (I hope carefully) the comments and understand that with your design the nipples will freeze when it gets really cold. What I really don't understand is why this is "acceptable". How long do they stay frozen? Do you use an alternative watering systeme when this happens?

    What about adding some 1 1/2" PVC outer pipping around the nipple and inner pipe and blowing hot air through it. The out pipe would have a 1/2" (more or less) section cut out along the length to allow the chickens to still access the nipple. Just thnking out loud... I'm not sure what would supply the hot air or if, indeed it would work, but it might :)
  11. DaveOmak
    Genius....... Absolutely Pure Genius..... I'm using it and darn glad you had a wild hair to improve upon something that really needed it..... Dave
  12. Chicken Techie
    thats great news! im glad you were able to modify the design to better suit you. i love it and it works great. now i use the watering nipples from the first day they start drinking water. I made a tiny one for some ducklings i hatched about a month ago.
  13. jkraze
    I built my version using your plans this week, and it came out pretty good! I used a different cooler, so the issue I had with that was the connection - I ended up using my dremel to bore out the inside of a 1/2" pvc, and glued it on. I couldn't get the tube to stay on with a clamp, but the modification seems to be working well. The girls have already learned how to use the nipples! Thanks so much!
  14. Chicken Techie
    No problem amy. That may help but I doubt it because the heat tape will warm the pipe, but the water in the pipe doesn't freeze. The problem is that there is and has to be exposed metal and water, if not they couldn`t drink. Sometimes drops stay on the nipples which is unavoidable. Probably the only way is to use the heatlamp, but that has its own dangers. This waterer was designed to be energy efficient and simple to use and upkeep. here in nh it gets cold but maybe once a winter I have to use a water bowl, to me not a big deal.
  15. jkraze
    I'm planning on building something similar to what you've designed, but I'm thinking about adding some heat tape around the nipple pipe. It would only need to be turned on during the coldest days, and might keep me from having to resort to an alternate watering method when it drops to 10 degrees or colder.
    1. KSH1
      Did you try that? If so, how did it work out?
  16. amynrichie
    Thanks for your help!
  17. Chicken Techie
    Yeah just a $6 submersible pump from harbor freight. I have a new one on the shelf as a backup but the original has been running for over a year straight now. Don`t go too strong on the pump though, all you need to do is keep the water moving.
  18. amynrichie
    Is that a submersible aquarium water pump?
  19. Chicken Techie
    That would probably work well and isn`t a bad idea to try
  20. amynrichie
    So, if you are able to maintain electricity, would a heat lamp on the VERY coldest days keep the nipples from freezing?
  21. Chicken Techie
    the cooler is the best choice for sure. I know this from experience
  22. Beour3rd
    nice set-up i'll follow your lead with the cooler idea.
  23. Chicken Techie
    Hosspak, Yes i agree, Its all in the write up above and it has worked well for me over the past year or so.
  24. hosspak
    Chicken Techie, I saw Jimmy hit on an idea that might keep the nipples from freezing up. If you ran a 1/4 tube from the end of the water/nipple pipe just before the drain valve and return that back to the cooler. You could use the circulation pump to send warm water through the supply tube constantly.
  25. Chicken Techie
    yeah the insulation makes a very big difference, the way mine is it works down til 10 degrees then the nipples themselves freeze, with the water moving and the heater it hasn't froze yet (the cooler and water lines) and it gets pretty cold here in nh. I think it would work if you insulated everything well. mike is just a cooler and pipe insulation wrapped in duct tape. and as long as the water isn't frozen they are happy
  26. jimmywalt
    Thanks for the fast reply! WOW!. I didn't think about insulation... With that said, I don't think my bucket idea is going to work here in Michigan. :-( I doubt that a submersible heater will actually keep the water at 78 degrees (or even over freezing) in a un-insulated bucket. Darn! The heater would have to run non stop from mid December till about mid march. Not sure one would be able to do that either.
  27. Chicken Techie
    i use the 3/4" pvc pipe because mine has to go through a wall and it makes it easier and less expensive than useing all pvc. this also makes it easier to clean later and adjustable. u can certainly use a 5 gallon bucket but you are going to want to insulate everything as i did, i used the cooler because it is rugged, insulated and seals well when the lid is closed. Im sure it can be done with a bucket, good luck!
  28. jimmywalt
  29. jimmywalt
    I wonder if you could just use a cheap 5 gallon bucket (I only have 5 chickens and that's what I'm using for this summer and it works great). I see that you wanted a cooler with a drain, but in your pictures and diagram, I just can't figure out what this thing really looks like. I'm not sure the purpose of the 3/4" clear plastic pipe before the pvc (and also how you would hook the two together). If you look at this thread I started you can see my 5 gallon bucket waterer. I'm wondering if I just add a submersible heater and pump like you have, along with a small plastic tube like you have hooked to the pump that pushes warmed water all the end of my pvc pipe (inside)...... Would that work? If not, why? I love your idea, I just don't have room for a cooler inside my coop and would like to use the stuff I already have. Thanks so much for your post!
  30. jimmywalt
    I wonder if you could just use a cheap 5 gallon bucket (I only have 5 chickens and that's what I'm using for this summer and it works great). I see that you wanted a cooler with a drain, but in your pictures and diagram, I just can't figure out what this thing really looks like. I'm not sure the purpose of the 3/4" clear plastic pipe before the pvc (and also how you would hook the two together). If you look at this thread I started you can see my 5 gallon bucket waterer. I'm wondering if I just add a submersible heater and pump like you have, along with a small plastic tube like you have hooked to the pump that pushes warmed water all the end of my pvc pipe (inside)...... Would that work? If not, why? I love your idea, I just don't have room for a cooler inside my coop and would like to use the stuff I already have. Thanks so much for your post!
  31. Chicken Techie
    that definetly will not work, try going to target thats where i got mine for $21 or so. no wheels or handle just a drain on the side. i tried that cooler and driller holes for my first design and never got it to seal for any long period of time.
  32. danib
    mine doesn't have that cup holder attached, though
  33. danib
  34. Chicken Techie
    well i appreciate the comment but i considered the toilet filler and if you use that there is really not much of a point in having a reservoir and you could simply attach the piping to a pressure reducer and simplify it further. i didn't use this because the feed water line would freeze on the way to the reservoir. also the 13 gallons goes atleast a week even with 67 feathered friends drinking from it. its been almost a year with my design and i wouldn't change anything.
  35. breakout
    Nice design! If you 're going to start making them for other people you might like to incorporate some of the ideas from this system. If the chickens are out of the coop free ranging most of the time it saves having to take water to the coop.
    Another version could be for people that have water running to the coop which could incorporate a toilet tank type valve inside the cooler to auto fill.
  36. Chicken Techie
    Well in mass it doesn't hit 10 often, it only did maybe 2 or 3 times up here in nh this past winter and all i did is break out the old waterers for the day, no big deal. once the temp rose a bit the water nipples unfroze and back in business. I might be making one for one of my customers soon, Im thinking of starting to produce them for other people since it does work very well. far better than i thought it was when i made it. I figure even if people don't have power you just remove the heater and water pump and you have a great 3 season waterer of great capacity. I take the same Iodine i put in my chickens water so i know its safe.
  37. danib
    I read most of it..didn't read the iodine part..but I did remember you saying that the nipples freeze below 10 degrees and the pipes and water were fine. I live in MA, and last winter it was less than 10 degrees. Wow..sounds like adding iodine would definitely be worth looking into. mThat is a long time to have the water remain fresh. Thanks for sharing your ideas :)
  38. Chicken Techie
    Well you should definetly read the whole post, it has alot of good info in there. The nipples do freeze below 10 degrees, but thats it, everything else stays unfrozen. Which in most parts of the USA thats perfectly acceptable. The Iodine keeps the water clean. if you don't clean your waterers often they get slimy inside from the water sitting in there. Iodine is in all living things and is needed. Iodine has also been used for a very long time for water purification. I use it so I don't have to clean my waterer. I haven't cleaned my waterer in over half a year thanks to the iodine. The inside of the cooler is totally clean and I would have no problem drinking from it myself. I use Lugols Iodine which you can easily get off and im sure other places also. Also the iodine helps to boost my chickens immune system which is always a good thing. So yes the iodine is very safe if used in moderation like everything else.
  39. danib
    Didn't get to read the post 100%..just skimmed through. So, the tips of the nipples don't freeze below 10 deg if you have the heater..(was telling my Hubby the nipples froze) and the iodine makes it so you don't have to change the water that right? Is the iodine safe?
  40. Chicken Techie
    its pretty easy to make, but it does work verry well
  41. danib
    Hopefully my Hubby can figure out something like this. We live in MA and it gets cold here too.
  42. Chicken Techie
    *****UPDATE***** Well its spring, and the final winter results are that it works great down to 10 degrees F. The only reason that it stops is that the metal nipples freeze, but the water in the cooler or the pipes never froze and it got awful cold here in NH this winter. I got about 30 Chickens (2 ducks) in there and the 13 gallons of water is enough to last them the week with out fills. I usually fill it once on the weekends and thats it. I haven't cleaned it since fall thanks to the iodine. The water is still very much clean enough that i would drink out of it without concern. I hope this posting has helped some people.
  43. Chicken Techie
    ****UPDATE**** Hello again, I have figured out that this waterer functions normally down to about 10 degrees F. below 10 the tips of the nipples freeze but the water in the pipe stays flowing. as soon as it warms up just a little the cycling water in the pipe warms the nipples and they work just fine again. It got down to 0 degrees F a few days ago in the coop where the waterer is and when the temp came up, it all worked again. the water in the pipes and cooler never froze or even got that cold really. This has been the coldest winter in years so it is good for testing out my design. I know alot of people were wondering just how good this would work then the temp dropped which is why i keep putting updates. because of the pump the water is always moving, and because of the iodine i use to keep the water fresh i haven't needed to clean out the system since before winter. yes i do check it frequently to make sure it stays clean. none if the interior surfaces have any slime on them at all. Thats it for now, have a goodday!
  44. Chicken Techie
    Well its not a barn attached to my coop, its a coop in my barn, which was a horse stall. its 10'X10' which is a good size
  45. rendezvous1838
    Great design. I wish I had a barn attched to my coop. I could have so much more "stuff"....
  46. Chicken Techie
    ****UPDATE**** i went outside to check on the waterer because its 10 degrees outside. inside the coop its about 17/18 degrees. the cooler for the waterer is on the other side of the wall from the coop so its not as warm, probably about 14/15 degrees and all the nipples still work and the tiny pump is pumping. have been useing this all winter with only 1 issue which i wrote about in the last update, but thats super cold and not normal winter temps for most of the country, so i believe this design would be great for everyone. if anyone builds one please let me know what you think
  47. Chicken Techie
    thanks, i always think how i can make something ultra low maintenance, because when the chickens become a chore i won't want them anymore, and i sure will report how it stood up to the weather
  48. Rich386
    I like the way you piped in the pump. Would love to hear how it stood up in the spring
  49. Chicken Techie
    ****UPDATE**** So great news, we finally got some actual cold weather, it got about -6 degrees outside so inside the coop it was about 0 degrees maybe a bit lower. the nipples did freeze, but all the water in the piping and the cooler didn't freeze, saving the pipes and everything else. the temp came back up into the teens and the nipples unfroze and are useable again. the reason this is good news is that there was no damage to anything from the freezing at all. for the one day that it was that really cold, i just put down a few dog bowls of water. this waterer has worked very well for me and saves me alot of work. im surprised at how good it works even in the 10 degree area. useing only a max of 50 watts when needed i haven't noticed any increase in my electric bill.
  50. Chicken Techie
    no, i haven't had that problem at all, yet anyway, and it has gotten cold here. i thing the reason you are having the problem is because you use a loop, thus allowing more surface area for the heat of the water to disipate more easily. i think the reason i haven't had a problem yet is because if the pipe insulation which is wrapped in duct tape and the way mine is plumbed. i have a smaller hose which supplies the warm water inside a larger hose which is the return. the heated water makes it all the way to the end of the "system" before returning on the outside of the small pipe and inside of the larger pipe. the warm water heat disipation goes into the return water so very little heat is wasted to surface area. the other issue you may have is that the cooler is on the outside of the coop, thats gonna take some heat away versus if it was enclosed or in the coop. i got mine inside the barn to wind doesn't hit it at all which i know helps. if you are already paying for a radiant heat floor then utilize that to keep the water pipe warm. i think that if you looked back at my post and replumbed your in a similar fashion you would have better luck. i don't think it has hit 7 degrees here yet but it has gotten close i believe. this is my first winter with this system so i hope it works as well as i believe it will. only having to add water once a week is really nice

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