Chickens drink 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups (.3-.5 liters) of water each day. I usually provide two waterers: one hanging waterer with a chicken nipple in the coop and one basin in the run. While the chickens seem to enjoy drinking out of the basin, the water is much more easily contaminated or spilled. The hanging waterer with the nipple ensures that they have access to clean, fresh water 24/7.
All of my chickens are hatched at home and raised with a hamster water bottle because traditional waterers fill far too quickly with shavings and poops in the brooder. (You can read more about brooding here.) When they move outside, they transition to the chicken nipple, which they master quickly, being already used to the hamster bottle.
In the big coop, I use a 5-gallon bucket with only about 1-2 gallons of water in it. If I use more, they never get a chance to drink it before I change out the water. However, I can add more water when it serves my purpose. In the winter, I sometimes use up to three gallons of water. I bring the waterer in each night to prevent freezing. In the morning, I add a kettle of near boiling water to the room-temperature water in the bucket and bring it out to the coop. The large thermal mass of the water and insulation from the warm air also trapped in the bucket keep the water unfrozen longer.
However, all of my other small and temporary coops have smaller waterers made from chicken nipples and reused plastic bottles. Vinegar bottles, juice bottles, and plastic milk containers all work equally well. Select a bottle with a good handle to use when hanging. I simply drill a hole, insert a nipple wrapped in teflon tape and smeared with silicone, and screw the nipple in. After letting the silicone set for at least four hours, I fill the bottle with water and hang it up in the coop.
I hang the bottles from a hook screwed into a beam across the ceiling of the coop. From this hook, I hang a metal chain. I loop the chain through the arm of the bottle and adjust to the height I want. Finally, I secure the end of the chain to a link on the chain above with an S-hook (just as I hung my feeder in the picture below). Put the lid on the bottle. Then, open the lid slightly or poke a few small holes in the lid. If the bottle can’t draw air in, then there will be a vacuum and your chickens won’t be able to get any water out!
When the bottle is dirty or you are cleaning the coop thoroughly for new residents, replace the plastic bottle. Remove the chicken nipple with a socket on your screwdriver. Remove the teflon tape using tweezers if necessary. Give the chicken nipple a soak in soapy, warm water, disassembling if possible. If not, be sure to wiggle all of the parts around to work the soapy water through. Then, disinfect with a dilution of bleach or Oxine if desired, rinse, and dry.
Drill a new hole in a washed-out bottle. Again, wrap the nipple in teflon tape. Just like when you are plumbing, you want the tape to tighten as you screw it in, so hold the threaded end pointed towards you and wrap the tape around a few times in a clockwise direction. Then, add a thin ring of silicon. Insert the nipple into the socket attachment for your screw driver, with the sticky side out, and screw it into the hole in the bottle. Let it cure for a few hours, and it’s ready to fill and hang for your new residents. The old, dirty bottle can be rinsed and recycled.
As I said in my previous post on chicken nipple bucket waterers, there are a number of different types of chicken nipples available. I used these nipples purchased on Amazon. These are the screw-in style and are recommended for use in thicker plastics. They have worked well so far. Recommendations vary from 1 nipple for every 3 chickens to 1 nipple for every 17. If the nipple is used too infrequently by the chickens, it can clog more easily. I use one per coop, which all have less than 15 chickens, and there is never a line at the waterer.