Portable Watering System for the Chicken Ark

So, I’ve spent time lately trying to figure out how to make my life easier taking care of my chickens.  For a while I was feeling kind of silly spending time and effort working on these little projects for the chickens.  But then I realized that it’s not really for the chickens.  All of the time and effort spent are for ME!  To save myself more time and effort in the long run!

I’ve just finished with this automatic chicken waterer and am very excited about it.  You’ve seen our Yuban coffee can in earlier pictures that we had used to water the girls until I could get the real watering system set up.  It actually wasn’t too bad because they couldn’t knock it over but every day I was trudging across the yard to rinse and refill it.  A small chore but not my favorite – especially in cold weather!

There are a lot of ingenious waterers out there for livestock.  I was very interested in using “chicken nipples” but every setup that I saw had a large stationary tank sitting outside a stationary chicken run.  That wasn’t going to work for the little chicken ark that we wanted to move all over the yard.

In all my searching, I came across the blog at Dunk’s Corner.  He set up a waterer for his chicken ark that had a main tank stored inside the peak of his chicken ark.  Then he was awesome enough to supply a technical drawing to show how he did it!

Courtesy of Dunk's Corner of the World @ http://duncansickler.blogspot.com/2011/06/chicken-tractor-project.html
Courtesy of Dunk’s Corner of the World @ http://duncansickler.blogspot.com/2011/06/chicken-tractor-project.html

You’ll note that there’s not too many measurements but since we all make our arks to different lengths and sizes, you really have to figure out your own unique dimensions yourself.

I made a few changes to Dunk’s brilliance to make building a little easier for me.  Instead of shaping PVC brackets to hold the main tank, I used steel pipe strapping and screwed it into either side of the coop ceiling.  I just slipped the tank through the hoops to get it set up.

Also, my PVC piping is not as elegant as his.  I did a 90˚ angle bend for the fill pipe and had it exit through the side wall instead of through the roof.  Instead of a curving tube going down for the lower watering section, again I ran a long section of 1/2″ pipe down through a hole drilled into the floor and then used another 90˚ corner bracket to attach the horizontal pipe below.  The lower segment is secured in place with more pipe strapping to the floor.

Here are some of the pictures I took as I put this all together:


These are the main supplies I ended up using.  The main pipe is 4″x~30″.  The small pipe is 1/2″ PVC.  The end caps shocked me at how pricey they are!  Each was about the cost of the pipe itself.  I bought the chicken/poultry nipples on Amazon.  I also used my drill, measuring tape, PVC cement, silicone sealant, a PVC cutting kit, and a Sharpie.Waterer-2

We knew we’d enjoy having chickens, but these ladies have been more fun than we even imagined!  They come running like dogs every time we come out and are super curious about anything new.  They were just certain there was a treat hiding in there somewhere.Waterer-6

Here are the 2 holes I drilled for the nipples.  I ended up doing 2 on the top/main tank and 2 on the lower pipe in the run.Chicken Waterer-1

I wrapped pipe tape around the threads before putting it in to the pipe.  In case you’re not sure how they work, these “nipples” are the same concept as the water bottle for a gerbil, rabbit or hamster (if you, too, had one of those as a child!).  The bird pecks at it which pushes the metal bar up and lets out a few drops of water at a time that they can drink.Chicken Waterer-2

You’re supposed to use a nut driver to screw these in with your drill.  My nut drivers weren’t deep enough to use on these so I ended up pounding the nipples in with a hammer and sheer will.  I don’t recommend that strategy – it wasn’t fun.  Then I sealed the edges with a little silicone to prevent leaking.Chicken Waterer-3

Thing #1 has made it his job to catch and hold the chickens.  So far the only one he can get is Olive because she’s a pig and will come to and be held by anyone . . .  for a price  treat.Chicken Waterer-4

Here you can see the hole I drilled to insert 1/2″ PVC pipe to carry water to the lower run.  I didn’t have the right size drill bit and the hole is a little large but it did give me some working room when I was playing with the angles.  I had to use quite a bit of silicone to seal up the gaps though.Chicken Waterer-5

This part is a little different from Dunk’s design in that I didn’t put a screw-in attachment into the pipe cap first.  I cemented the 1/2″ PVC directly into the cap and then sealed all around the gaps with the silicone.Chicken Waterer-6

Here’s the lower watering strip with the nipples and the end cap.  I decided against cementing this cap on.  It’s removable so that I can drain the entire system and clean it out when needed.  It fits very tightly on its own and there is very little dripping.Chicken Waterer-7

I was a little concerned at how much room this might take up in the coop.  It’s not a huge space and I’ve got 4 big birds.  As you can see, it’s fairly minimally invasive!  From the side, all you can see is the pipe leading to the lower run.Chicken Waterer-8

Here’s a view from below.  It looks rather high but the birds can easily reach the water when they stand on their roost.  I think they could possibly stretch from the floor level and reach it too.  You can’t see the fill pipe but it’s on the left end going out through a 1″ hole I drilled in the side above the nesting box door.Chicken Waterer-9

The lower deck.Chicken Waterer-10

Here you can see the coffee can we have used for water.  I kept it out for about a week before taking it away.  It took about that long for the girls to realize that there was another water source.  It’s been fun to watch them learn and I realized that the girls on the lower end of the pecking order figured it out first.  Maybe you’ve got to be a little smarter to get what you need when there’s a couple of bossy things chasing you away from “their” food/water/treats/attention/etc!Chicken Waterer-11

The fill valve.  I tried to make this as unobtrusive as possible but it does stand out a bit from my more “natural” looking coop.  Oh well, sometimes design has to stand aside for function.IMG_3919-2

  1. Hi

    This is Dunk! Thanks so much for the compliments! You did an awesome job on your Chicken Tractor and the documentation of your build. I really love the way we can share and learn from each other on the web! One comment on the subject of Algae… I have a full size hen house now and have re-purposed the parts of the old chicken tractor including the 4″ pvc pipe/tank.
    When I cut into the pipe to make some brackets and stuff there was no hint of algae or anything in the tank. I’m thinking… no light inside system equals no algae buildup. I never thought to clean it at the time but in hindsight it’s prolly a good idea!
    Best Regards!


  2. That’s fantastic! I built 14 of those style arks or chicken tractors from instructions I purchased from Catawba Converticoops (which I highly recommend). The one I kept for myself I built a PVC pipe watering system a bit like the one you’ve shown but I put mine entirely on the lower level, running the full length. I cut out a circular hole in one of the nest box spaces at the end and put the fill spout there where its entirely invisible from the outside. It worked really well.

    Thanks for showing the way you’ve done yours! I love the pictures.

  3. We just got our first chicks and are in the process of building a tractor just like this. Thanks so much for sharing such detail about the watering system. I was wondering how you clean it out? Do you add the Raw Apple Cider Vinegar to keep the algae away? I have been doing so much reading and that was one thing I came across for keeping water clean. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Danielle,
      I mainly try to keep it clean by not letting water sit in it for very long. I pull the end cap off of the bottom of the system and let the water drain before flushing it out with fresh water before filling again. The main reason for this is that the chickens will actually refuse to drink out of it after 2-3 days. I guess they don’t like stale water? I’ve been meaning to add a little ACV to their drinking water anyways so that’s a great idea. I will probably flush with a little bleach water at some point for a deep clean but will make sure to really flush it out with lots of freshwater before storing more in it. I don’t think algae is a problem with this system because there’s no light that gets in. All the water that I’ve dumped has been crystal clear so far!

    2. Thanks so much for the reply. It helps to hear from some one who has used it. Glad you aren’t having any trouble with algae or keeping it clean. Really can’t blame them for not drinking stale water huh? I know I wouldn’t. LOL Our chicks are only two weeks old right now, so I am doing a lot of research trying to decide what we want to go with so I really appreciate your time.

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