Water Cross - Waterer for Small Coop or Tractor

By CovertChickOps · Dec 23, 2012 · Updated Jan 26, 2014 · ·
  1. CovertChickOps
    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 water nipple, 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.


    While I used a Brite Tap nipple waterer in the original design, it tended to freeze up in temperatures starting in the mid to low 20's. I think this was due to the narrow neck in the Brite Tap that isolated the water in it too far away from the heat source. I therefore modified the design by getting rid of a the Brite Tap altogether and tapping a nipple directly into a piece of clear PVC and placing the aquarium heater right above it (please see pictures at the end of article). I put a clean out plug at the end of this tube to allow insertion of the heater and also to clean the waterer when needed.

    I used a 50 watt aquarium water heater that is fully immersible (not all are). It is set on its highest 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 - replaced with one water nipple purchased on ebay)

    Hydor THEO Submersible Aquarium Heater 50W - $20.79 with shipping, Amazon.com (upped to 100w in design update)

    Thermocube - $12.50, Amazon.com

    (1) Cross Tee, (1) 45 Elbow, (3) End Caps, (1) 90 Slip Elbow, (2) Adaptors, (1)Threaded Plug, (3) 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!

    Design Modification Update -

    I've had this water in use since last winter (2013) 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. 2014 report: Since my design change (as can be seen in the pictures below) the waterer has stayed completely ice free. When the weather first dipped into the mid-teens during our stint with the "Polar Vortex", the nipple did freeze just enough to keep it from working. Once I unjammed it, it has not re-frozen, even though we have had repeated nights as cold or colder than the first one. I think what happened is as the temperatures dipped, the nipple, which always leaks enough to have a drop of water at the tip, froze before the heater kicked on. Then, the 50 watt heater did not have enough oomph to unfreeze it. I am going to eventually replace the 50 with a 100 watt heater. That should do it. I probably should have started with the 100 watt heater in the first place - it was almost the exact same price as the 50 on Amazon. I think this brand of heater goes all the way up to 300 watts, but the heater length increases as you go up in wattage, so that needs to be taken into account when doing this design. Those of you with chicken tractors will probably like this design since it is attached to the coop.




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Recent User Reviews

  1. The Farmers' Daughter
    "Good info"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Sep 2, 2018
    Two questions.
    What is the purpose of making a cross instead of a straight pipe since the nipples are only at the end of the vertical pipe?
    Wouldn't horizontal nipple help with the freezing and dripping issues?

    Overall a great idea though.
  2. ronott1
    "Nice Article!"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Jul 30, 2018
    Good way to keep the flock watered and not freeze up in cold weather
  3. Anonymous
    "Innovative idea!"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Jul 23, 2018
    Nice page especially as it has a parts list. Love the design modification update too.


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  1. Patterson Farmer
    This post (and the comments) has inspired me to give this a try. This will be our first winter with chickens and temps can dip into the -20's (Celsius...that's -4F in Fahrenheit. I've been searching online for solutions and so far this system seems to make the most sense. Thanks for sharing!
  2. CovertChickOps
    2014 Update: We have had record low temps here this year. The 50 watt heater works to about 15 F, but below that and the nipple tends to freeze up. This has happened twice, both times overnight. Once I thaw out the nipple with my fingers, it keeps working as long as the chickens are up and drinking. Nothing else freezes up in the waterer - not even the water at the fill opening. Nevertheless, I plan to swap out the 50 watt heater for a 100 watt one when I get a chance. That should cover all weather conditions here in Virginia - I'll let you know!
  3. CovertChickOps
    A loop design is actually a great idea - it would allow use of an aquarium type pump and heater to keep things ice free. I hope I won't have to go that far where I live.
  4. hosspak
    I think the nipples could be placed "in-line" with your supply making a circuit back to the supply bucket. I would place a small submersible pump in the bucket and run a small tube through the pipe towards the nipple section this would circulate warm water through the whole system so no areas get frozen and water doesn't sit.
  5. CovertChickOps
    DESIGN CHANGE WARNING: The temps have dipped into the high teens here in Virginia...and the nipples as well as the water in the Brite Tap froze! The water above the heater did not freeze, proving the fact that warm water rises, but the T-shaped design and location of the Brite Tap (below the heat source) must make it just too isolated to keep from freezing. I was able to unfreeze it by covering the Brite Tap and the elbow going to it with pipe insulation and cranking the aquarium heater to full blast, but I'm afraid it still must go. I will be replacing the Brite Tap with a length of regular PVC pipe with nipples tapped in, which will allow me to place the aquarium heater directly over the nipples. This should prevent any freeze-ups. I may need a second heater higher up in the waterer, but we'll wait and see if that is necessary. Live and learn!
  6. CovertChickOps
    I think water transfers heat well enough to not be an issue in most areas, but pipe insulation and/or a bigger wattage heater may be necessary in some areas. These aquarium heaters have thermostats that will heat the water to almost 80 degrees, and we are only talking about one gallon of water. By antifreeze I guess I meant no freezing at the nipples. It hasn't gotten cold enough here to see if the water will freeze at the fill opening, or the other side of the cross, but it is a valid concern. If it is really cold where you are, you might be better off with a larger diameter pipe for a downcomer and a very short fill pipe, maybe even a using 'Y' type fill fitting instead of a cross tee. Hmmm...
  7. Roxannemc
    Really like the design PERFECT for my tractors too and am looking for something like this however what do you do about the upper piping when it gets cold?
    Doesnt it all freeze but for the lower part where thr heater is? You mentioned the "antifeeze protection "what is that? Wonder if pipe insulation would work?Or a 4 inch deep false wall over the piping with a light bulb inside for sure would.thaks for the Better PVC idea...
    Thats a great idea!

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