Chicken waterers, or drinkers, come in a dizzying variety of types, shapes and sizes. For the first-time chicken keeper it can be surprisingly overwhelming.
Our objective today is to help you understand which type your flock needs.
In this article we will cover the basics of a drinker, before we go into the detail on the different types available and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
This will also be useful to some of the more experienced chicken keepers amongst us, as new types of waterers come onto the market fairly frequently, so we will review these newer ones too.
Chicken Waterers 101
|Little Giant Galvanized Steel Drinker||Galvanized Steel||
|RentACoop Chicken Nipple Waterer||Plastic||
|Harris Farms Easy Fill||Plastic||
|Backyard Flock’s Automatic Chicken Drinker Cups||Plastic||
|Farm Innovators Model “All-Seasons” Heated Poultry Fountain||Plastic||
Chick vs Adult
The essential difference between the two is size.
Chicks need a much smaller drinking dish so they can reach the water. They also need it to be shallow, in order to reduce the risk of drowning.
Chicks drink frequently, so a pint sized waterer is perfect for keeping them hydrated and for quick, easy refills. To avoid them drowning, add some clean pebbles or marbles to the trough for about a week or so.
Types of Material Used
There are three main materials used to make waterers: plastic, glass and metal. If you are an ‘eco-warrior’ you can easily exclude the plastic variety.
You will only be using glass in the form of a jam jar for chicks. Once you chicks outgrow the jam jars, you have either plastic or metal to pick from.
There is a large array of galvanized metal drinkers to choose from.
You can get smaller units that can fit into a corner; this would probably suit 3-4 hens. There is also a small bucket type that you can fill and then rest on its’ side so they can easily access it.
You also have the larger ones, which come in 2, 4, 5 and 8 gallon units. They are designed to be hung by a chain from a secure point (8 gallons of water is approximately 64lb!).
The beauty of galvanized metal style is that they last a very long time. So although they may be a bit more expensive than their plastic counterparts, you will get a lot more bang for your buck.
Plastic waterers come in all shapes and sizes too. Again, from the small chick sized bases to the much larger range versions. They are very convenient since they are a bit lighter to carry than metal, but they will weather over time.
You will find that the plastic coloring fades and that plastic does eventually break.
Please be aware that not all plastics are created equal. I have found through the years that those which have a more ‘rigid’ plastic crack very easily during cold weather. If you can choose those with a slightly thicker but more malleable plastic do so, it will save you some money. With that being said, my preference is still the galvanized metal ones, due to their durability.
Now you know the basics, let’s look at the different varieties of waterers and their pros and cons.
Standard Waterer (Gravity)
|Best Standard Waterer for Hens|
|Galvanized Double Wall Founts
Most folks with just a few hens use gravity waterers. This is just a fancy way of saying you use a hanging waterer!
Gravity waterers are by far the simplest and most commonly used ones. You don’t have to worry about water pressure or freezing pipes in winter.
The major drawback to the gravity style is the need to refill them frequently.
On average, a mature hen will drink about one pint of water each day (around half a liter) in normal weather conditions. This number may increase to 2 pints in hot weather.
As long as you know how many hens you have (or are getting), you can buy a waterer to fit their needs. A caveat to this is it’s actually better to have a couple of them just in case you get a bully hen ‘guarding’ the food and water.
|Horizontal Nipple Chicken Waterer|
|Horizontal Nipple Chicken Waterer
A really neat little innovation is poultry nipples. These are little plastic valves that screw into a plastic bucket.
One of the big advantages of this type of waterer is they are very clean and you get no mess. No more daily cleaning!
Now it just remains for you to train the birds to use the nipple. It will only release water when the valve is touched, so it saves on spills, leakage and poop balls in the trough. The major drawback is that they can freeze during winter if they are outside.
An alternative to the poultry nipple is the poultry cup.
These are similar to the nipples except that you have drinking cups. There is a central valve that releases water when touched, refilling the cup as necessary.
This is the chicken owners dream for winter! A heated waterer so you don’t have to break out ice every morning.
Of course, for those who live in warm countries this would be superfluous, but for those of us living in sub-Arctic climates, they are a Godsend.
You can either buy an all-in-one heated unit or if you already have a waterer and don’t want to buy another, perhaps a heating plate is for you. A caution here, the heating platforms are designed for metal ones only. They will melt plastic and may cause a fire.
Both the all-in-one heated unit, and heating platforms, have has a thermostat that will turn itself on when the temperature drops and will keep the water from freezing down to 0F.
Once setup, automatic chicken waterers are a dream! They refill themselves by virtue of being connected to a water source, such as a hosepipe.
There are a few different types of water dispensers that can be used with this system: nipples, cups and a fount that has a stop valve to prevent overflow. Generally you have to ‘make’ your own automatic waterer, but everything you need for the initial set-up is usually sold in a kit.
If you are a bit confused as to the difference between the automatic and a plain gravity one, so was I. The ‘true’ automatic waterers are those which are attached to a water source eliminating the need to refill.
The others waterers that we have mentioned earlier could really be considered as hybrids of the manual/automatic variety. While you still have to fill them, if you have a large enough reservoir they will need filling infrequently.
The true beauty of the automatic type is that you don’t need a reservoir and your chickens get access to unlimited fresh water.
|Alternative and Miscellaneous Waterers (Top Fill Waterers)|
|Large Top Fill Waterer
We are just going to give a brief mention here to some of the other types of waterer available.
Similar to the gravity one mentioned above, you might have heard of a ‘top fill’ waterer.
As the name suggests you fill them up at the top and a float is used to control the water supply to your chickens. They have the major advantage of not needing much cleaning and you don’t need to fill them up each day.
The final type we will discuss is the heavy duty rubber bowl.
They are great for placing around the yard so that chickens can sip as needed. The major problem with these is trying to keep them clean – I have to change the water at least daily.
A big advantage is that in winter when they freeze, you simply flip them over, jump on them and the ice just drops out!
|Best Standard Waterer for Hens|
|Galvanized Double Wall Founts
We have talked about several different types of waterer today. Hopefully, this has been informative for you and perhaps you even feel inspired to hook up your own automatic one.
Of course, just about anything that holds liquid can be used as a drinker, this doesn’t mean they are ideal though, because they get dirty very quickly. Hens, being hens, will still drink from muddy puddles despite their spiffy new waterer – that yucky water tastes just divine!
For the average flock my pick is the regular galvanized metal type. They are simple, easy to maintain and incredibly durable, outlasting all plastic varieties.
Also as mentioned earlier, you should have multiple waterers in case you have a bully hen blocking access to one. Remember, when you are buying one the key things to keep in mind are:
- Can you lift it when full of water?
- Can you clean it easily?
- Is it well made?
- Will it be big enough for my flock?
Which style of chicken waterer do you use? Let us know your experiences with it in the comments section below…