Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Keeping chickens on your homestead can be an important step in becoming more self sufficient and sustainable. A backyard flock can easily keep a family in eggs all year with enough to spare for neighbors and friends. When my husband and I moved to our Appalachian homestead, one of our first priorities was to get the old chicken coop on the property back in order and fill it with mini flocks of laying hens, silkie chickens and guinea fowl.
Our birds have been a delight to watch grow to maturity, but as they've increased in size they have outgrown their two gallon indoor waterer. Filling it is a simple enough process but made more complicated because our entire homestead runs on rainwater and all our livestock water comes from giant rain barrels off the side of our house.
Walking back and forth from the house to the coop with a cumbersome watering can got old pretty quick. When we knew it was time to update our system, we were faced with the depressing task of buying several more $50 dollar waterers that would need to be refilled constantly.
A better option? Move the rainwater directly to the chickens by way of an automatic chicken watering system! By using a gutter off the roof of the coop to collect rain in a 55 gallon barrel, we won’t have to worry about the chickens running out nearly as often. For more photos and details check out Off Grid Chicken Waterer.
The first step was installing gutters on the down slope of the coop. One of the few pieces of this project we had to buy, the gutters came from our local hardware store and cost about $45.
Next, PVC pipe was attached to the gutter to bring water from the lower end of the coop to the upper end. We did this because the coop was built on a steep slant and putting the rain barrel on the lower end would necessitate that it be raised several feet off the ground to be effective. Building a sturdy platform that wouldn’t be tipsy or dangerous was more complicated than simply directing water to the higher end.
All the long pieces of PVC pipe that we used were 4 inch diameter and found on property in the woods. (Remnants from past projects that were abandoned by previous homeowners). The PVC joints were bought at our hardware store and ranged in price from $.79 to $4.
In the trend of reusing old materials, we utilized an unused rain barrel for the holding tank of the waterer. Likewise, old paving stones that had previously been a path through the garden found new life as the platform for the barrel to rest on.
For the watering mechanics, my husband bought Chicken Nipples off Amazon that work much like the hamster water bottles that are put in pet cages. He bought this particular brand because they were advertised to fit over PVC pipe for a tight seal. The package instructed drilling a 5/16th hole in the pipe, but when Ian and my dad tried the nipples didn’t fit. They had to go up a drill size and seal the gap with silicone.
The nipple pipes were carefully attached to both ends of the mid size pipe that went through the chicken fence and into their run.
One crucial component of this system is the faucet for drainage. These pipes aren’t insulated, and the entire system will need to be winterized or we risk it bursting. Having a faucet at the bottom makes draining simple which is essential for cold nights in the spring.
And that’s our new chicken watering system! For the same cost as one more indoor waterer, we built an outdoor system with 10x the capacity that won’t require much extra work from us to keep up. I’d call that a success.
Lydia Noyes is serving as an Americorps volunteer with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they live with two nuns and help to run a sustainable homestead mountain-ridge retreat and ecology center that resides on a 500-acre land trust. You can find her at her personal blog and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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