Automatic chicken waterer

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.

The end cap is constructed from a 50mm cap, a short (70mm) piece of PVC tube cut from the main piece, and a 50mm to 2-inch BSP male screw end. The horizontal tube gets a corresponding female 2-inch BSP screw end

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.

Left to right: 50mm PVC to 2 inch BSP connector, 50mm to 40mm insert, 40mm to 32mm insert, 32mm PVC tube, half of the basin trap

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.

Chickens @ 6 weeks

Even after a week, the chickens are noticeably bigger. Captain Cluckwash (left) and Sefuffle (front) are getting a real chook look about them, and Flashy’s (centre) wing feathers are starting to normalise after having a little ruff of dark ones up by her neck.


They’re also starting to munch on the grass seeds and the nasturtium that’s found its way out of the cage.


Spotted the world’s tiniest grasshopper on a parsley leaf the other day and thought “cute!”.


But then, along comes the world’s weirdest-looking caterpillar, eating all the little cherry buds. Looks like a dead leaf rolled up:


Not so cute. Off you go, caterpillar.

And then …

The elm has had its leaves out for about a week now. It didn’t grow too well last year, and was hoping for a bit more action this time around. After the first spring sprout of leaves, the new stems are just starting to push out, and I find this:


Elm leaf beetle, Xanthogaleruca luteola. Hundreds and hundreds of them. They weren’t there yesterday, because I was up there giving the elm some water after a few dry days (and ironically just before an epic storm came through). The leaves were in perfect nick, so no larvae were present. These guys probably flew in.

The entire tree is utterly trashed *sad face*.

I have some bug spray, which has been used just once over the last 2 years. But by golly it came out today.

Word is that an elm can recover from an attack, but this guy is really small and no leaf has remained untouched. Just don’t know how it’s going to do it.

A new hearth

With all the difficult decision-making around the fireplace done, it remains only to rebuild the hearth.

To build our 6mm slate tiles up to the level of the 19mm floorboards, we used two layers of ceramic underlay. For the bit going over the concrete, we used a drill-and-plug technique, with tile adhesive, to keep the underlay down.


Gaps are sealed with duct tape. The tiles are sealed with Feast and Watson Paving and Sandstone sealer – it was the only one we could find locally that promised a matt finish. We’re not particularly interested in the wet look you get from gloss sealers.

The real trick was finding the right trim. We eventually found brass angle of the right height and at the right price at George White & Co. after a tip-off from Ang.


The trim did not come with nail holes, which complicated things just a little. We got it down and straight using a combination of flat-head nails, bullet head nails, string and tile adhesive.


Then we cut 1 tile in half to start the brick-stagger pattern:


And we’re off!


The tile under the propping-post isn’t stuck down straight away. We didn’t want the weight to squeeze out the adhesive.

We’re thinking the effort is going to be worth it:


Probably the trickiest bit is that the tiles aren’t uniform size or thickness. Most of them aren’t even square. That gives a bit of a rustic-y feel to to layout, but means each one has to be carefully selected to ensure it fits in with the ones around it. Just one of those fiddly things you can do yourself, with a little patience, but which you wouldn’t want to be paying someone for.

Lady time

Our little blue splash Australorps chicks were put aside for us while they grew big enough to survive on their own. We got the call today and went down to The Basin to pick them up.

Introducing Captain Cluckwash and Sefuffle. Inside are Popples and Flashy.




R already effortlessly tells one from the other.


168 spinach plants

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a random seeder by nature. The philosophy of just throwing handfuls of seeds into a patch and seeing what grows is certainly quick, but the results can be … patchy.

So this time we’re going to do it the scientific way. We got some seed trays, and we’re going to put 1 seed down per little box and see how many grow into yummy food.

Step 1 is a little seed raising mix. A while back Mary mentioned that Anita used to have her veggie patch down the bottom of the garden. It’s never looked like much. Here it is on the day we first checked out the house for a potential buy:


Doesn’t look like a veggie patch. Looks like dirt.

But then it occurred to me that they might have been dumping their grass clippings down there for god knows how long, and that that dirt might actually be pretty good.

Turns out it was. So some was hoisted up the hill in a big bucket, and the seeding began.


Actually that dirt looks a bit crusty for seeds. Some of the lumps are pretty big. Time to get the sieve out and make some seed-raising mix.


That sieve was one of those purchases I just wasn’t sure about at the time. The only use for it I could think of was for sifting the bits out of R’s sand pit. But it’s been really great for all sorts of jobs. It makes perfect seed-raising mix:


With 1 seed in each spot, a packet of organic spinach seeds gives us 168 potential plants.


Let’s see how many survive the birds, bugs, rabbits, snails, slugs and moths to make it to harvest.

Pulling up the hearth

There’s been much discussion around the hearth. S was of the opinion that the beige tiles under the fire are probably the thing that makes the house seem 80s. Black fire, beige tiles, pink carpet, erk.

They’re not going to look any better once the floorboards go into the lounge room. We did some layout testing and it was all naff. We thought about reducing the size of the area to minimise its effect, but we just couldn’t get around the Blight of Beige.

In the end it was decided that either the boards had to go all the way under the fire, which is probably a fire hazard, or the tiles had to be black to match the fire. So really only one option. And black means slate, which rocks since it’s a natural stone surface, but tends to be expensive (and isn’t that comfortable underfoot, for most areas you’d be inclined to tile).

The little square patch was also a bit naff, and a concrete plinth that extends down to the ground below was found to extend well past the tiles on either side, so it was decided to extend the tiles the full width of the room so we weren’t trying to nail boards into concrete. We’re going to have furniture boxes either side of the fire for books and twigs/wood/etc., so the tiles won’t be that visible. It’s a utility space which spends half the year covered in bits of bark and so forth.

S got cracking on Gumtree, and found some super high quality slate tiles going for a song right away. Just leftovers from someone’s project, not enough to do a whole room but fine for our purposes, and they were desperate to get rid of them because they were moving house. Black, uniform colour and very smooth. Yippee!

S fetched them (cue the ute), cleaned them up and did a quick layout to check their goodness.


That’ll look pretty neat, we reckon.

Meanwhile, S also got busy removing all the staples from the floor (holding the underlay down) and the carpet gripper from around the edge.

We tried to start pulling up the tiles around the hearth using a hammer and chisel, but it was very hard work. We needed an air compressor to run the nail gun anyway, so purchase of that became a priority.

M went and picked up a second-hand air compressor, also off Gumtree. An air chisel to go with it made short work of the tiles around the fire. S took to demolishing with gusto.


The last 9 tiles couldn’t be removed without removing the fireplace. Looking up the unit’s data sheet online, it turns out that the thing weighs 280kg. There’s no way we can even drag that thing off there.

A plan was hatched to jack it up and sort of slide it away on some beams. But the first problem was that the flue wouldn’t come out! More research online at the fireplace manufacturer indicated that the hat on top of the chimney might be holding it all in place. So up on the roof we go …


M very gingerly edged down there and it banged off with a rubber mallet OK. That roof angle turned out to be almost as treacherous as it looks – without the chimney supports to lean on it’s quite hard to get back up to the ridge. Not to mention the 6m drop off the side. Talk about collywobbles.

Anyway, with the flue hoisted up it looked a bit like Wacky Wednesday there for a moment.


To get that fireplace out we have to support the flue with something. And to support the flue with something we need to get the new tile underlay installed, at least in the corners of the room, so we can put in a couple of props.

The tiled area will be precisely 1m wide. The ceramic underlay comes in 1.8 x 0.9m rectangles. Bummer. We need to build it up a bit because the floorboards are 19mm, not including underlay, and the slate tiles are only 6mm thick.

The concrete either side of the existing tile underlay was a bit all over the place, so M flattened it out. M thought that a box with the vacuum cleaner stuck into it would serve as a great dust control method.


Oh how woefully wrong M can be. Utterly inadequate. The concrete flattener is a rotary metal thingy that goes on the angle grinder. It threw great gouts of dust to all directions, thick enough not to be able to see through it at times. Took 5 times longer to clean up than it did to do the grinding.

Anyway, live and learn.

Once the concrete was a bit flatter we could lay down the tile underlay. The manufacturer recommended using adhesive on particleboard flooring as well as nails, so we did that.


The gap between the underlay and the wall is flexible, whereas we want the front edge to be just right. It will be our reference point for the floorboards later. So we set up a fence in the right spot and put the underlay up against it before nailing it down.


With both corners getting two layers of underlay, we can prop up the flue. We chopped a bit of junk treated pine from the yard to use as props, and used one of our nice tassie oak beams to keep it up (the beams will go into a table down the track).

Then, two more pieces of tassie oak and 3 jacks allow us to jack up the fireplace.


At this point, it was thought that the fireplace might slide down the beams, if the ones near the wall were jacked up higher than the one at the front. But that was dreaming. It’s just too heavy.

Time to roll like an Egyptian! There were still 2 old curtain rails in the shed (mates to the ones serving as chicken roosts), so we chopped them into pieces to use as rollers and popped them under the fireplace.


They did a great job. We used the towing strap wrapped behind the fire to pull it forward, and as one roller disengaged out the back we brought it around to the front. Thank the gods for all those pyramid-building documentaries we watched as kids!

Gently, gently and the fire is out.


S set-to with the air chisel once again and removed the last 9 tiles in about half an hour.

Finally, we use the angle grinder to cut a line in the existing fibre board (which sticks out too far), and pry it up the old-fashioned way.


Winning the war

While the War Against Onion Weed may never be absolutely won, the back of this stinky enemy is definitely broken. The last patch was the hardest to get out, growing around the Belladonnas, the bearded iris and the chestnut tree.


One of the most annoying things about it is that it’s almost impossible to save other plants growing around the stuff. You have to dig right down to get it out, and invariably the other plants come up with it. So it looks like a bit of a bomb site.

Same time last year:


All guarded, of course, by giant bull ants. Because just pulling out weeds that grow from 15cm under the ground is not hard-core enough.

A nice example of Myrmecia forficata. This one was on its way to bite something, I’m sure.

One of these guys bit me on the thumb (well, they bite, then they wrap their bum around and sting you with their stinger), and it itched for days.

They’re quite interesting critters. They set up sentries around the nest entrance, who just stand there all day waiting to bite anything that comes along. One ant per rock. Maybe 10 of them in all, up to 3 metres away from the nest.

New passionfruit

Passionfruit must be just the tastiest plant going, because whenever I put one in, it gets stripped almost instantly. The leaves go first and then, not satisfied, whatever is attacking them starts stripping the green off the stems. It’s diabolical.


We’re going to give wire a go this time. Hard-core pests need a hard-core reaction.