Now, it’s getting time to wind back on the whole chicken thing for a while. They’ve got 4 or 5 months of growth ahead of them before they start laying, the drip reticulation is in, there are some plants around the run that need time to grow up around it.
But: chickens are not known for keeping things neat and tidy. They don’t mind kicking all sorts of junk into their watering thingy. It needs to be cleaned out every couple of days.
Their feeding tray lasts a good few days, so if the water can be worked out they can be left for a while without too much worry.
Enter the fully-automatic chicken waterer.
The theory is that there’s a giant rain water tank over under the deck:
There’s no reason why the chickens can’t drink from it, except that they’re about 15m away in a cage. But the water is already reticulated down there for the plants, so it’s not far away at all.
We decided to make a semi-independent system. Something that would still be workable if the main tank runs dry (always a possibility at the end of summer). So step 1 means taking an off take from the reticulation supply line, to supply our new waterer:
That’s it heading off to the left. We put isolating valves in each line downstream of the off take so we can have one or the other going if we need to.
We need a local storage solution, and for that we use a 25L watertight drum: one of those things you get for canoe-camping holidays. We want the drum to fill up automatically, but not overfill or transmit pressure from the tank into the waterer if we have the pump on (the pump is good to get pressure for the hose, but it’s a bit full-on).
One of the things that does that around everyone’s house is the toilet. So we got a cheap toilet filler and popped it into the drum. Also, a cheap bathroom basin plug for the water to get out. We got one of those popup ones to make it easy to isolate the drum from the rest of the system, so that it can be disconnected (for cleaning or whatever), even if it is full. An 18mm and 35mm spade bit made some nice holes in the bottom of the drum to accept the fittings:
The big spade bit wasn’t quite big enough, so the big hole got a bit of ‘adjustment’ and is a bit of a mess. Here’s the view from inside:
The toilet filler is adjustable so you can have the drum fill to whatever height you like. Bonus!
It gets installed in the coop through the application of some very complicated science. Okay, we just cut one of the floorboards and sat the drum on top. It’s pretty heavy when it’s full, so we let gravity be our friend as usual.
A 13mm barb to 1/2 inch BSP connector gets the water supply connected to the toilet filler’s inlet.
At the other end, we need something the chickens can drink from without making things all dirty. Word on the street is that commercial gigs use these drip-feed nipple thingies to make sure no water is wasted. They weren’t available down at our local chicken food/accessory shop (the woman was taken aback when I asked for them – I reckon she thought I was nuts), but were readily available on eBay.
The theory behind the nipples is that the chickens raise their beaks to the nipple – i.e., they sit above head-height. They need to tip their head back to drink anyway. The nipple is just a little wobble stick that releases a bit of water when the chicken pokes it. Here it is dismantled:
The bit on the left is hollow, the bit in the middle is the wobble stick that pokes out, and the bit on the right is a weight that keeps it sealed when it’s not being poked. These stainless steel ones easily fall to bits to aid cleaning, although it makes it a bit tricky to handle things, because they need to be kept upright to stay together.
The nipple has a screw thread for screwing into a pipe. So we got a bunch of PVC to make a tube thing going from the drum to the nipple.
I had a piece of 2-inch clear plastic tube from my days doing solar pumps. It was typically inserted into a display system that let the punters see the water being pumped around the loop. It’s been sitting around the shed for oh, 6 years, and thought it was a good time to put it to use. It will serve as an indicator if the water level drops low for some reason, since the drum is inside the coop and isn’t readily visible all the time. So we set up a 2-inch pipe system, with some converters to get the sizing down to the 32mm basin plug thread.
On the near end, an inspection piece that unscrews and lets us look inside the waterer without taking the whole thing apart. Then a horizontal tube with holes drilled for the nipples. The tube turns a corner up to the clear indicator piece, then the size is brought down to 32mm with 50mm to 40mm and 40mm to 32mm coupling pieces.
On top is a basin trap, the only thing I could find that would screw on to the basin plug outlet. On the positive side, the trap is telescopic so it allows for the height of the upright part to be adjusted (so that the corner piece sits on the shelf under the coop).
After priming, gluing and screwing the bits together, it looks like this:
With a close-up of the installed nipples:
The clear upright piece will be under the coop, and won’t get any direct sunlight on it, but it bears watching. Light getting in is likely to allow algae to grow, which won’t be good for our chooks.
With the pump turned on at the main tank, the drum fills from empty in about 30 seconds. It’s a mite down hill from the main tank, so it will fill from gravity alone, but it’s slow going.
Probably the only hiccup along the way is that the bottom of the drum is not flat, so the basin outlet won’t seal up by itself, no matter how tight you screw it in. We’re not planning on pulling it apart, so a spot of silicone around the edge keeps the water from leaking out.
Update: installed and ready for testing:
It leaks, and doesn’t fill up properly. A bit of plumber’s tape should take care of most of the leaks, around the screw threads. Of course, it doesn’t fill properly because there’s nowhere for the air to go with the trap confusing things. Need an outlet in the top of the trap to expel the air.