Before we left on our recent road trip, we wanted to have a system in place to water the chickens so the neighbor who would be collecting the eggs wouldn’t have to deal with our problematic hanging waterers. I’d been planning such a system for some time. All I can say is, “We should have done this sooner!”
First, I built a stand for the water tank. The new waterer would be gravity fed, so I needed a bit of elevation. We might also want to mount the waterer inside the coop, so the tank stand needed to be high enough to feed into the coop, but low enough that we could collect rainwater off the coop roof (ala pile of o’melays). This stand is just under 3′ tall. The ends and top are stand-alone units that bolt together. I nailed on the side braces because I ran out of bolts. (Everything but the 4×4′s was scrap material.) It’s probably overbuilt, but 55 gals of water isn’t light.
The water tank was another recycled food-grade 55 gal drum. We buy these from a local honey distributor for $16 each (ours were both used once to transport molasses). They are really sturdy. I’ve read that car wash businesses get their soap in similar drums, so you might take that route to get some free drums. Near the bottom we drilled a door-knob sized hole and installed a plastic bulkhead fitting. The hardware store is painfully proud of these (about $20 each), but they provide a reliable seal between the tank sides and a 1/2″ threaded fitting. We added a ball valve with hose threading to complete the water source.
The waterer itself is a Little Giant Automatic Bird Fount. It’s fairly expensive for a brass valve and a plastic bowl (like most things related to livestock), but they are durable and well designed. The bowl removes for cleaning with a quick disconnect and the valve shuts off when you do this instead of running continuously (clever). With the bowl removed, two nuts adjust the spring tension and ultimately the water level at which the weight of the hanging bowl and water closes the valve. I attached the waterer to a 16″ plastic riser, and built a wood mount for it which hangs from a rail on the tank stand. The waterer and tank connect with a short length of garden hose. I prefer garden hoses for easy of reconfiguring things. The chickens were immediately attracted by the red-colored bowl, and quickly accepted it as a water source.
The rail-mounted design of the new waterer matches the rail-mounted chicken feeder I previously built. I like the concept enough I’ve assigned it a name: Chicken Rail Accessory Platform [CRAP]
The concept is simple: by installing a rail of a fixed design at a fixed height, various waterers, feeders, mineral feeders, etc. can be hung and repositioned as needed. The waterer I just built can be mounted inside the coop (with the hose threading through a small hole in the wall) and it will be at the correct height. We can build a narrow feeder for oyster shell or mineral salt and mount it on a similar-height rail on the water tank. If anyone wants to try out CRAP at home, I’ve provided a simple plan drawing below. All measurements were scientifically selected completely at random. They seem to work for me. Other measurements would work just as well.
Edit: Robin tells me my drawing is unclear and needs some explanation. I’m proposing two different install heights based on where you will mount things. Over solid ground, such as outdoors or a regularly cleaned coop, I’m suggesting 9″ from the ground to the feed/water level. This seems to be a good height for the chickens to eat/drink at without wasting food. If you are using a deep litter system in your coop like us, then I’m suggesting 12″ from the floor. This provides an average of 3″ litter to bring the chickens up to about the same height. In practice, this means that at one end of the feeder the floor will be bare and at the other end there will be 6″ litter, but the chickens don’t seem to starve either way. The front lip of the rail in our coop is mounted at 40″ off the floor. The front lip of the rail on our water tank stand is 37″ off the ground.