Chicken Nipple Waterering Systems

A question came in this week from a reader who has tried our deep bedding suggestion but is having trouble keeping the chicken waterer clean as a result. Chickens are certainly expert at fouling (fowling?) their water source. Which is why many people use nipple waterers like the one above. Chickens learn to use them quickly (they like to peck at things, after all).

I’ve seen two DIY options: the simplest is a suspended five gallon bucket with nipples stuck in the bottom (as in the image at top), and the other is a five gallon bucket hooked up to a pipe with a line of nipples (as in the second image).

American Preppers Network blogger Stephanie Dayle has instuctions for making a bucket and pipe system here. You can purchase the nipples on Amazon. And the bucket and pipe system pictured above is being sold on Amazon here (I have not tested it).

Ideally all the parts should be food grade as I’m not a fan of PVC. Of course the zinc in the galvanized waterer is probably not so great either, so it’s probably another case of not letting perfection be the enemy of the good.

Living in Los Angeles all my life I’m no expert on what to do with poultry nipple waterers when it freezes. I imagine it has to be drained and put away for the winter but please chime in if you have other ideas. And, in my own case, I think I’d keep my standard waterer as a backup. These poultry nipple contraptions have a tendency to leak and I’d hate to lose chickens on a 100ยบ F day because my waterer failed while I was sipping lattes down on Sunset Boulevard (at some hip new human coffee nipple waterer bar, presumably).

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  1. We are using the bucket with nipples waterer. It does leak, but not terribly fast. We have 5 chickens and only fill it once every week or so. Our plan for winter here in Mass. is to put a bird bath heater in it.

  2. I tend to deal with chickens messing up their waterer or water dish by elevating it on cinderblocks, or placing it in an area that’s clear of bedding. I know they’re clean and easy but sometimes I feel that they tend not to drink as much as they would if they were dipping their beaks, which someone mentioned once about bunnies drinking from their water bottles. Not sure if it’s true or not, but I also don’t want to deal with pvc and such. I also have a bird with scissorbeak, so I’m a little unsure of if this would work out well for him. He tends to ‘gulp’ and scoop up water, a bit like a pigeon/chicken drinking method. I saw someone make a feeder once by cutting wide vertical slots in a bucket. It was chest (breast?) high, and the slot was wide enough to allow the head and neck but not the shoulders of the chicken. It reminded me a bit of a chicken stancion. Since I work in ceramics I might try something along those lines for elevated feeders/waterers.

  3. We use a small glass fish tank to water our 5 birds. It has a filter hanging on the side that keeps the water circulating and keeps most debris out. We keep it out of direct sunlight which prevents algae from growing, and we can easily slip a heater in it when temps dip!

    • What a great idea. I have two 10-gallon aquariums that are not being used. I could do that, too. Mine have tops on them made out of a frame and screen-type wire. That should work to keep junk out of it. Thanks.

  4. I’ve also been using a five gallon food grade bucket with nipples installed. No leaking at all for the year I’ve had it and I simply screwed the nipples into the bucket after drilling the holes. However, my chickens also seem to prefer to scoop up water. Especially during the heat of summer I would put out a pan of water and they would head for that. Last winter here in zone 6b/7 was not much trouble. We get down below freezing mostly only at night. The nipples might freeze but could usually be jiggled open in the morning. The water in the bucket would freeze on top but still be liquid underneath. I may try a small drop-in stock tank type heater if necessary. The nipples were a huge relief to not have to haul (and waste) so much water because the hens were kicking their deep bedding into it. Even though the fount waterer was as high up as they could still use, I was swishing it clean several times a day. Even so, I may eventually switch to the automatic water bowl type waterer since the hens seem to prefer open water.

  5. We’ve used standard chicken waterers, which get dirty by poop or by dust and bugs. now we use the nipples in the bottom of a suspended bucket we got from a local bakery (was free, used for frosting). We have two more standard plastic drink pitchers from the Dollar Store with nipples in the bottom of each. They are the best thing ever! Check out the blog at for numerous discussions and pics of heaters, and a link for nipples that don’t leak. Our area isn’t old enough to freeze water/nipples but possibly once a year.

  6. Like sweetgum, I found that my girls prefer dipping to dribbling, so I built a hybrid system: a 2-gallon covered bucket with three nipples and an adjustable irrigation dripper in the bottom, hung from the side of the run. A shallow dish, raised on a stack of pavers to reduce fouling, catches the drips for dip-drinking.

    The original was a 5-gallon bucket refilled by an adjustable dripper from the drip irrigation system. After a squirrel cut off the water supply by chewing through the spaghetti tubing, I switched to the smaller bucket to make it easier to refill manually. With four hens who also have access to water outside the run during free-range time, the supply lasts three days to a week. The dish still gets contaminated, but the girls always have fresh water from the nipples.

  7. We are only 3 months into our chickens, but switched them to chicken nipples a month ago and it’s working well. Our chickens sleep in chicken tractors, which are a bit tighter on space, so we have plastic orange juice containers at either end of each of our tractors with the nipples screwed into the plastic lids.

    We use silicon caulk to keep the seal tight around the nipple, and cut a small square out to use for filling with water on the side, at the top. We hang it with picture frame wire, with small holes drilled on the sides also up by the top, so the wire goes through the middle for added strength.

    The chickens got how to use it right away, and we only refill our four containers once a day for 15 chickens, though we could get away adding water every two days when its cool out.

    What I love is that the water is always clean. Amazing they survived all the poop water (even with 3-4 daily water changes) before now.

  8. I’ve had mine up and running for a few months now and love it! I’m an apprentice midwife, so my schedule is weird and I always worried about them getting stuck with no water on a hot day. Mine is auto-filling with a float, and also waters the rabbits (I blogged about it at, if you’re interested in the not-so-pretty details). I like the refilling system because even if it springs a leak, they will still have water until I notice and fix it…but so far, there haven’t been any problems once I got the initial kinks worked out!

  9. My nipples have never leaked. (ha says the nursing mother) We have been using the poultry nipples since April and not a leak or blockage has occurred. I will be using a bird bath heater in Jan. when the weather freezes.

  10. I hated the dirty water in my open fount-style waterer, which was constantly overfilling or underfilling, and never seemed to work right. I now use a bucket system with nipples from the Walden Effect folks. Mine hangs on a plant hanger-type hook right on the post where the hose bib is, so I never have to haul a heavy bucket of water- just pop off the lid, swish inside with a (dedicated) toilet brush to prevent algae growth, rinse and refill- all of two minutes, max. I have 10 birds and refill about twice a week, even in the hottest weather. I’ll never use anything else again.

  11. I built a heated horizontal nipple feeder. The 3 nipples are 6ins apart. From Ebay I bought 19 AWG Kathanol resistance wire and initially wound this onto a tube of 32mm diameter, the final heated pipe being 40mm. The overall resistance used is 8ohms with a 12.6v low voltage transformer supply. There is an air thermostat in the low voltage circuit and no fear of electrical shocks. The adjustable thermostat came from an old electric fire. The hens now enjoy clean lukewarm water in the frosty weather.

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