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How to Build a Rain-Catchment Automatic Chicken Waterer

This is probably my favorite project on the homestead so far – a rain catchment, automatic chicken waterer!

It took less than an afternoon of work and now I’ll never have to haul water out to the chickens again! Amen!

In other posts I’ve shown you what you need BEFORE you get baby chicks, the 12 best heritage chicken breeds for your homestead, and even 13 ways to lower your poultry feed bill. In this post, I’ll show you how to build an easy water catchment system that will water your chickens for you!

rain catchment automatic chicken waterer

Why Build an Automatic Chicken Waterer

Last year in Virginia it rained more days than it didn’t…that means we had more than 180 days of rain! However, in Virginia, that means we could have a complete drought next year! That got me thinking about how we could better manage our water.

In another post, I’ve gathered 26 way to conserve water on your homestead, and one of the ways to do that is to capture rain water.

In permaculture, there’s an idea not of “capturing” natural resources, but of stewarding them to where you would like them to go. So normally, it would rain, soak into the ground water (or runoff because we have clay), then our well pump would have to pump it back up to the surface, where I would have to open a hose, fill several poultry founts, turn the hose off, and drag the founts out to the coop – several times a week.

In another post I talked about how you can hack every part of your homestead – this is one of those steps I took apart and wanted to hack.

So instead of that lengthy cycle of ground water to well to hose, we’ve put in a system that by-passes all of that and gets delivered directly to the chickens! I do a little happy dance every time I don’t have to clean and fill water founts!

rain catchment barrel with pvc pipe

Materials You’ll Need

  • length of gutter (depending on the length of your roof)
  • two end caps (like these)
  • a gutter end with a drop (like this one)
  • a flexible downspout (like this one)
  • 50 gallon barrel (or any water holding tank – could be as cheap as a plastic trashcan)
  • 2 – 90 degree PVC arms (2 or 3 inches – the diameter doesn’t matter and I’ll explain why)
  • a ball shut off valve (that fits your diameter)
  • a PVC end cap
  • a length of PVC depending on how long you want your waterer arm
  • poultry nipples (like these on Amazon)

How to Make Your Automatic Waterer

Install your gutter system on your roof with a slight angle. This angle should only be about 1 inch from start to finish – too much of an angle and the water will splash out of the gutter and too little of an angle the water will stand in the gutter and you will create a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Once you install the main body of the gutter you’ll attach the two end caps and the gutter end with the drop. To the drop, you’ll add the flexible downspout.

Feed this into whatever rain catchment or rain barrel you’re using. We had every intention of adding a filter to keep out debris and leaves and stuff, but we never did and it’s been fine so far! (You can also buy a gold fish to eat any algae that forms)

On the rain barrel, as low as you can while still remaining horizontal, cut a hole the size of your PVC pipe. Feed your PVC arm/right angle into the hole and seal it.

Install your ball valve if you’re going to use one. We installed the ball valve in case we need to do any repairs down the line and didn’t want to lose all the water we had already collected. In the reviews for the poultry nipples, people said 1 out of every 4 leaked, so we figured we may need to swap out nipples.

Out of the 5 that we used, not a single one leaks, so we haven’t had to do repairs yet.

Add the second 90 degree arm 1.8 feet below the output. I’ll explain why…

See, each poultry nipple needs exactly 1 PSI to function properly. Not knowing how to achieve this I called up my little brother. My little brother happens to be an Engineer (it helps to know smart people!) who took fluid dynamics. I asked him how big our rain barrel would have to be, the angle of the arm, how wide the PVC pipe, the length of the arm, etc. to get exactly 1 PSI to each of the nipples.

Turns out, the amount of water, the angle, the width of the PVC doesn’t matter at all – the barrel simply has to be 1.8 feet above the horizontal arm! Science for the win!

So 1.8 feet below your barrel, you’ll add another 90 degree bend and attach your final waterer arm. In this arm you’ll have to drill holes and screw in each of the nipples. Then simply add the end cap and you’re done!

You now have an automatic chicken waterer and don’t have to haul buckets anymore! On a side note, you don’t have to train your chickens to drink from it. They are naturally curious creatures and will investigate everything, especially shiny pieces of metal.

To show you a visual walk-through of our set up, and see an example of how my chickens use it (including some bloopers), check out my YouTube video:

And for more homesteading videos, make sure to subscribe to my channel!