Make Your Own High-Capacity Chicken Waterer

My least favorite Swampy Acres Farm Chore is dragging buckets of water out to the animals all the time. A full-grown goat can drink a gallon or more per day and 25 chickens can easily go through this much as well. Well, I could invest 5 grand into plumbing the farm from the main well or I could look into making a larger capacity livestock waterers that I can fill with a hose more infrequently. So I went with the latter. You can follow my steps here to make your own livestock waterer. This can easily be adapted to water most any creature.

Assemble your materials:

A. I used Craigslist to locate a used, 60 gallon, food-grade plastic barrel. This one used to hold Mountain Dew concentrate and it still has somewhat of a soda aroma. A little bleach and water helped subdue this somewhat. I am sure the chickens/goats won’t mind a bit Cost = 20 bucks
B. ½” boiler drain, male threaded. I got this one at Cheapo Depot for 5 bucks. You also need a little Teflon tape and some silicon or acrylic caulking.
C. Short length of hose (female/male ends). I got one at the local hardware store. Sometimes you can find these near the hose reels as people use them to bridge the short distance between the house spigot and the reel. Cost = 10 bucks
D. Automatic Float Valve: I got this online at Jeffers Livestock for 11 bucks (plus shipping). For those not familiar, a “float valve” is a device that attaches to a hose or a pipe and attaches by thumbscrews onto the back of a bucket or trough. When the water level reaches a certain point the float rises and closes the valve. Very useful to keep something perpetually full of water but remember if your bucket or trough gets knocked over you will drain your entire reservoir (or if you have this piped from a well, waste a lot of water until you happen to notice). So attach this securely.
E. Flat-backed bucket/Pan etc: Cost = 8 bucks
F. Optional: Concrete Blocks to make a platform. The higher you place the reservoir, the more pressure you will develop but CAREFUL! Remember water weighs 8.35 pounds a gallon, so a 60 gallon barrel will weigh 501 pounds. Obviously, you can’t put this barrel on a card table so use concrete blocks or a sturdy stand. Secure this well so it doesn’t tip over.

Total Materials = about $60
4. Here are some pictures of the automatic float valve. I used a 2 gallon rubber tub as a trough. These are virtually indestrucible and won't crack if they freeze solid. I also built this up with some recycled pavers. You want a chicken waterer at "beak level" as much as possible. If the waterer is lower... it tends to fill up with chicken crap and other debris. Also, here is a lesser know fact, if a chicken "bends over" to drink, some of the contents of its crop "barf up" and fall into the water bowl. So try to prevent a chicken from bending over to drink as much as possible to keep the water cleaner.

3. After the caulking dries you can paint the barrel your choice of colors or leave “au natural.” In New Hampshire it is quite socially acceptable to have large barrels placed around your yard. I however, camouflaged mine with a bit of green paint. Here are some pics of some waterers I built last year for the chickens. Please note: I also added a flexible pipe from the gutters of the hen house so I can fill these automatically with rainwater.I used a 4" PVC coupler drilled into the top of the barrel to act as a receptacle for the flexible pipe. I also cut a piece of standard nylon window screen wrapped around the end of the pipe to keep leaves and other debris out of the barrels. You can just as easily dispense with the rainwater collection system and just fill them with a hose from time to time. No mater how you fill these barrels, make certain that all openings are sealed or adequately screened to make certain these don't become mosquito breeding tanks.

2. Attach the spigot to the barrel. Put the spigot as low as you can on the barrel to optimize the amount of water you can drain out, also the plastic tends to be thicker near the bottom of the barrel vice the middle region. But remember to leave enough room to attach the hose, unless the spigot will overhang the stand. Drilling the Hole: The trick is to drill a hole a little smaller than the threads on the spigot.. that way the threads sort of drill into the barrel a bit. If you make this hole to big you are in trouble as this will probably start to leak. I used a ¾ flat wood bit. Thread the spigot through first. Unless you are Superman, use a wrench but be careful. DON’T STRIP the hole. If you really screw up and make the hole to big or strip it out, well, go back to Cheapo Depot and get the next larger size spigot and up-size the hole. Don’t get lazy on this and try to “glue and duct tape” the spigot in there.. It is going to leak.. do it right! After you thread the spigot through once, cover the threads with Teflon tape and screw it back in. Next, apply caulking liberally around the joint as an extra measure. Let this cure for a week or so to be safe.
5. Maintenance: Daily, I drain out and clean the water tub (during my egg gathering trip). Every couple weeks/month or so, I will clean out the barrels by just draining them out and cleaning with 5% bleach solution. I try to time this to occur this right before a rainstorm, as then I get mother nature to fill them back up for me. One good rain fall will fill up both these barrels (35 gallons each). I haven't had to use the hose once to fill these all year... of course we had a very wet summer this year. In the winter, this system will freeze solid up here in New Hampshire. In theory, these barrels (being plastic) should be able to "give a bit" in a freeze/thaw cycle. However, I don't chance it. I just dismantle the hose/tub/valve and store this inside. The barrels are left outside, but I disconnect the fill pipes and just leave the spigots open. So far, no problems with this.

May 2010 Update

Just a quick update here and a few more tidbits. My waterer did survive this last winter. However, I got lazy and forgot to disconnect it before the first frost. As such, the valve and rubber tub froze completely solid. The barrel itself also froze into a 270 pound block of ice. In the spring, when the whole set-up melted it was still functioning perfectly. The only damage was that the latex paint split off the outside as the barrel expanded with the ice.
After this melted, I gave the paint a quick touch-up (I can see this is going to be a never ending task!), and decided to sister the two barrels together. A 35 gallon waterer (one of these barrels) will drain surprisingly quickly with 40-50 chickens drinking from it! So, I wanted to add the other barrel to give me a total of 70 gallons. I bought a cheap hose, two brass two way valves, and 3 female connectors and one male. I put this all together into the set up you see below. The two way valve for the barrel on the right isn't an absolute necessity, but I wanted a way to fill the occasional bucket without unscrewing the hose. Also, I am careful to have only one barrel feeding the rubber tub at any one time. Occasionally, the goats knock this over and the float valve will quickly drain the entire bucket. Keeping one barrel in reserve means I should always have a spare. As you can tell, I really hate carrying buckets of water out to the coop and will go to any length to keep my rain water system running.
June 2011 Update

This winter was absolutely brutal and completely destroyed my barrel system. I ended up adding a third barrel to bring my capacity up to over 100 gallons. However, in the winter the barrels froze solid, which caused the bottom of the barrel to flex outward. This caused all the barrels to fall of their pedestals and roll down the hill. This was pretty much the end of my existing system. I use a heated system in the winter, so this didn't really affect anything for the moment. So, there was nothing I could do until spring, as I really can't move a 400 pound barrel full of ice. In the spring after the barrels melted, I was able to empty them out. I decided (since I am too lazy to empty the barrels in the fall) that I would switch the barrels out with a large, flexible watering trough that was open, so when it froze it would just overflow as opposed to flexing and tipping over.
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I ended up getting a 150 gallon Rubbermaid watering trough and built a nice pedestal out of concrete block.
The next problem was figuring out how to hook up a garden hose to this. This tank has a 1.5" outlet. So I went down to Cheapo Depot to get a few PVC parts. I got a 1.5" threaded/female adapter, a reducer to 3/4", a small section of pipe (cut in two pieces), a 90 degree elbow and a 3/4" female to threaded adapter. After gluing all this together, and affixing a small piece of hose with pipe clamp. I was back in business.
I finished hooking up the hoses and my gutter drains, and we were back in business!