Brass Nuts & Chicken Nipples

Posted by Nick  | 07 Mar 2015  | 6 comments

There comes a time in many a homesteader’s journey when they encounter the term “chicken nipple”. This term, you might have guessed, is not what it seems, but it nonetheless becomes a favourite phrase around the house for a week or so. Go – chant it aloud. Chicken nipple. Chicken nipple. Chicken nipple. Isn’t it glorious?

Anyway, you’ll find out a bit later what a chicken nipple actually is, but I’ll give you a hint: Soon we will be getting a handful of real nipple-less egg-layers, so in preparation for their arrival we set out to build a self-sufficient watering system for them. After a trip to the hardware store, this is what I came back with (plus a few items not pictured):

This stuff is like Lego for grown-ups (though what grown-up doesn’t still love Lego?). Finding all the right components to fit together felt like playtime. I probably went overboard on the stainless flexi-pipe, when an ordinary piece of hose would have done the job, and there may have been an easier way of arranging the set-up, but I’m a novice, okay?

A whole bunch of tools for putting it all together:

The first ingredient needed for a chicken watering system is a receptacle to hold an adequate amount of water. Too small and you’ll be filling it up with the garden hose over summer. Too big and it’ll sit there being overkill. A 120 litre plastic barrel seems to be what people have been using. We got a couple a while back from a guy in Auckland who sells food-grade 120 litre barrels that were used to transport olives or vinegar. Obviously you don’t want to use a barrel that had something toxic in it like pesticide or chicken poison.

Firstly, we drilled a hole for a basic tap, for the convenience of having running water down at the old tin chicken coop.

Once the hole was drilled, I had to climb in to fix the brass nut to the inside and seal it with silicone. Mica thought this strange human behaviour was absolutely fascinating, so took the opportunity to worsen my escalating claustrophobia by attacking my defenceless legs and, dare I say it, crotch.

The best part of this experience was coming back out. Not only because I was starting to imagine what it would be like to be trapped in a barrel, but because when I did come out the world looked like someone had applied a sepia filter to it.

We drilled a second hole and repeated the process on the opposite side, which would serve as the outlet for the chicken waterer.

By this stage the afternoon heat was blistering, so we called it quits and retreated inside for a thirst-quenching lemonade. The following day I sought shade from the still relentless sunshine in the barn, where I sourced some wood and constructed this platform for the rain barrel:

I placed it in a hole I had dug to stabilise it; the last thing you want is livestock rubbing up against it and knocking it over. Getting it level was a nightmare.

You’ll find odd knick-knacks digging holes on a century-old farm. In this small pit alone I discovered a broken dinner plate, a bunch of bricks, iron doodads, common razor-sharp shards of glass, and an old leather shoe. The style of shoe looks particularly colonial with its wooden sole and nails. Pretty cool.

Who knows what else is buried beneath this land. We’ve already found a random oven in the middle of the farm. Yes, an oven.

I compacted the earth around the platform with a post-hole ram and sat the barrel on top. The structure stood firm and the barrel was snug.

Then came the fun part of assembling the fittings. In the picture below the hose is facing out for ease of assembly; I’d later rotate the barrel so the hose went through a hole in the coop.

I added this valve as a precaution in case we needed to detach the waterer (for cleaning/maintenance) without having to empty the barrel.

Next up was cutting a hole in the corrugate wall of the coop. The idea being for the waterer to be inside the coop, fed by a pipe from the rain barrel on the outside.

The first part to this was adding a filter to the barrel, to exclude leaf matter as well as provide a barrier to breeding mosquitoes. I cut out a circle of stainless steel mesh and fastened it under the handy clip that came with the barrel (usually used to clamp its lid). As you can see, Echo the duck happily investigated the unusual commotion around his/her home (he/she has been sleeping in the coop).

I then added an overflow pipe, which would divert excess water away from the platform/coop.

Covered it, too, with mesh to deter any creepy-crawlies from making a home.

That’s the barrel complete – let’s move on to the how of filling it with rain water. Guttering!

Living on your own rain water supply is scary during dry summers like the one that’s just passed. At four hundred bucks we’re rather un-keen to get a tank-load brought in. This scarcity in H2O has made us value every roof, however small, because a roof is pretty much the only way you’re going to catch water, at least without investing a lot of money in a bore pump. Extending that philosophy to providing water for animals, we thought we might as well make use of the old chicken coop’s roof.

I screwed a wooden spacer onto the top of the frame and secured the gutter clips.

I cut the spouting to length and glued the end cap on with PVC cement. Man, that stuff is potent. Do not do what I did and give it a deep whiff upon opening the bottle. Goodbye braincells.

Once the gutter was clipped on, it started to look like it was all coming together. I love the juxtaposition of the brand new guttering on the decades-old corrugate. (This is all temporary for a while anyway, until we can afford to build a real sleek chook pad.)

The roof had a bit of overhang, so I climbed up and trimmed that mofo down to size. It was a hell of a job with insubstantial tin snips. That orange-coloured stuff isn’t rust, by the way, it’s lichen. Probably due for a clean…

After spending a while pan-frying my knees on the hot tin roof, I glued the downpipe elbows together and hooked the assemblage up to the guttering. Now we have a working rain water catchment system on our chicken coop!

Get ready, here comes the part with the chicken nipples.

That is a chicken nipple. Pretty disappointing, huh? It’s a device that dribbles water when pecked at by a chicken (and, hopefully, a duck). The idea is to have them protruding intermittently from a pipe filled with water connected to a water source – in our case a rain barrel.

I taped over the drilling points to prevent the PVC plastic from chipping, and I put an old rake handle inside the pipe to prevent the drill bit from busting out the other side.

Viola! A large flute:

Now to twist some chicken nipples!

Yay, they fit. I will have to go back and put some silicone around them to prevent any leaks. (Update: We did this, but when we got chickens they pecked it all off! So we unscrewed the nipples and added Teflon tape to the thread instead. Seems to be working fine, and the chickens have taken to the waterer – success!)

The last part of the project was to connect the pipe onto the rain barrel hose and clip it to the studs inside the coop.

Mission complete! After manually filling up the barrel with a few buckets of water to test the system, we were pleased to see everything worked as planned. Those chicken nipples dribbled at the slightest touch.

We’re ready and waiting, chickens.