I was giving the the latest round of chicks, poults and ducklings water when I realized how much I hated the type of chicken waterers I was using.
They’re the standard 1 gallon fill and flip plastic waters. I always use them in the brooder because they hold enough water that I don’t need to fill them 6x a day but they don’t take up that much room.
Hating a waterer might not seem like a big deal but when you have to deal with them 2+ times a day for the rest of your life it’s really worth it to find something that works for you.
Over the years I’ve tried different things for water so today I wanted to break down a few different styles of waterer, what they’re good for and where the fall short.
Disclaimer: I live in the North East and I swear it never stops raining so water isn’t hard to come by here. All of this advice is based on my personal experiences. If you live in the desert this might not work for you.
There are two groups of barnyard birds, the waterfowl, ducks & geese (maybe swans if you’re a special kind of crazy) and the land fowl, aka chickens, turkeys & guineas.
Right now I have chickens, turkeys, guineas, geese and ducks in my flock. They all require water, especially in the summer when the temperatures are out of control.
The land birds are easy to please. Things get messy (so, so, so messy) when you add waterfowl, keep that in mind when planning your dream flock.
Plastic 2 Piece Chicken Waterer
I have a pile of 1 gallon plastic waterers. They have a red base and a white upper bucket but I’ve also seen them in white & green.
To fill this style of waterer you flip it upside down, unscrew the red part, fill with water, screw the base on and flip.
Sounds easy right? Well, I hate them. I only use them in the brooders because they’re the right size and the shallow channels keep the chicks from climbing in and drowning or getting chilled.
Side note: You can add marbles or clean stones to the waterer base to help keep the chicks out. I never do it with chickens but it’s a good idea for guinea keets.
It is impossible to flip them without getting water all over. It wouldn’t be a big deal out in the barn (let’s face it, water is way nicer than most of the things on that floor!) but on the porch it makes the concrete floor a bit hazardous.
It’s also tricky to get the base on. The best way I’ve found is to wedge the bottom between my feet, line up the notched on the base with the divots on the top and give it a quick, sharp twist.
Over time the plastic gets brittle, especially if you’re using them outside. I have a stack of bases left over from cracked tops.
That actually works out pretty well because the bottoms get nasty when the chicks kick the bedding all over. I switch out the bases when I refill them and can wash them at a later time which is great when I’m trying to get everything done before I go to work.
One more issue, this isn’t specific to the plastic twist&flip style, it’s true for any of the gravity waterers.
If they’re not on flat ground they’ll leak all over. I usually put my waterers up on 1×1 or 2x4s to keep some of the bedding out but when you do that and the waterers get knock off they’ll leak all over.
Other Plastic Waterers
Along with the classic 2 piece twist waterers I’ve used slightly large plastic wateres with a built in heated base and a large plastic waterer with a screw off top.
I no longer use either and I don’t really recommend them.
One of the bases on the heated waterer started melting and I was really lucky to avoid a fire. I immediately threw out both of the (expensive) waterers and never looked back.
The other plastic waterer I used was a plastic 5 gallon waterer with a removable top. It worked fine, did it’s job but after it died I didn’t replace it.
The main benefit is you don’t need to flip this waterer once it’s full, you take the little black cap and twist it on to cover the water spout at the bottom then uncrew the top and fill it up.
5 gallons is a good amount of water, especially if it’s really hot out and you are worried about your flock running out of water if you’re away at work for the day.
I find it much more forgiving of uneven ground then the metal waterers I use now. It’s much less likely to leak all the water out if it’s a tiny bit angled.
There are two things I didn’t like, one is that little black cap. I can’t tell you how many times I lost it. I’m not sure how but without moving more than 2 feet it was just gone.
I’m also the kind of person to spend 15 minutes looking for the glasses I’m wearing, if you’re a more capable person than me it won’t be an issue.
The other problem I had was with the lid. You really need to lube up that seal or you’ll never get it open. If my ex-husband was helping me and he put that lid on? No way in hell I was going to open it and I’m not a particularly weak person.
2 Piece Metal Waterers
These days I stick to several 5 gallon metal waterers and a few bowls, but we’ll get to those next.
Right now I have 3 of these set up, two in the area I have fenced off and another one outside the fence for all the chickens that escape. I would prefer they stay in the fenced area but I’m not going to let them heat stroke (or drown in the large tub the alpacas use) because they are poorly behaved.
These waterers are also in two pieces, there is a small pin on the base that fits into a groove on the top. You untwist the top and pull it off to fill, then place the top back on and twist to lock it on.
There is a small rubber gasket on the inside that seals when the lid is off, in my experience you’ll still see a bit of leakage, especially as they age. If you’re having issues try running your finger around the seal to see if a leaf or anything is stuck and holding it open.
The upside to these waterers is they last forever and they hold a lot of water. You can’t see how much water is in them but all it takes is a quick push with you hand or a foot to see how much water is left in them.
You can have problems with leaking if the black rubber seal inside doesn’t close completely or if they aren’t on flat ground. That part can be a bit tricky outside.
I try to avoid having water in the barn unless I can’t avoid it, like in winter when we have 4 feet of snow piled up around the barn. So I keep all of my waterers outside under the trees in the shade.
There is usually a bit of trial and error to find a good spot but once you have it accept the death of grass in that spot and keep the chicken waterer there forever. I’ve also had luck placing them up on bricks or inside a black rubber bowl.
Speaking of bowls, I love using large rubber bowls for my flock. I use them for food, snacks, water and to hold leaky waterers.
I have about a dozen of them in rotation for various uses. They’re impossible to kill and not very expensive.
During the winter I keep two of these in the barn for water, I fill them up in the morning and again after after work. There is another larger bucket for the alpacas that the geese and ducks can reach.
Speaking of ducks & geese, they don’t need to have a pond or a pool but they do need to be able to dip their bills in the water and clean their nostrils.
They’ll splash and make a mess in the bowls but they also work really well for cleaning out the nostrils. All that splashing will deplete your water levels though and that’s why I use the bowls and the metal waterers.
Kiddie Pool or Tubs
I have a large kiddie pool and a new stock tank for swimming that double as an extra water source. If you’re familiar with keeping farm geese or ducks you know these are trashed pretty quickly.
This year I added a a new tub to my chick brooder set up. Instead of my usual 3 foot tall stock tanks I picked up a 50 gallon that’s only 12 inches tall.
After the ducks moved outside I moved the chicks into the larger tubs and moved the short one outside. I stuck in under the barn eaves and it filled up (it’s a 50 gallon capacity) in a few rainstorms.
I stuck a large rock in it to help the ducklings get out (and any chickens than decide to fall in) and it doubles as a water source and bath tub.
Always make sure your birds have a way out of the tub. One year I lost 6 Muscovy ducklings that climbed a fence and went swimming and eventually drown because they couldn’t escape.
I’m not sure how they got into the tub but that day I learned an important lesson about being able to get out. Learn from my mistakes and remember there is a dark side to keeping chickens and all the other barnyard birds.
This is my first year with a nipple waterer set up. I bought the chicken nipples from Amazon (I’ve waited my whole life to use the phrase “chicken nipples”) and followed the directions on the package to add them to a bucket.
I don’t really have an opinion on them yet. The chickens don’t seem that interested but it hasn’t stopped raining in 2 months so they have a puddle buffet. I will update this post when I have a bit more experience with this set up.
Out of all the options this one requires the most set up, you can buy a bucket with the nipples already added but I’m pretty cheap and I own a drill so I bought the nipples and DIYed it.
If my chickens catch on I can see this replacing my metal waterers, especially if I can get a rain barrel set up with these at the bottom. I’ll still need to keep the kiddie pools or at least the rubber bowls in action to keep the duck noses clean.
What do you do for your flock? Is there another water option that I’m missing?
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