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.


6 comments Leave a comment

| Reply

Can I say I can’t wait for your chickens? I can’t wait for your chickens! “Look at all them chickens..!”


Hopefully soon! We’ve been mucked around by a breeder, otherwise we’d have them already. Our chickens better like their fancy watering system…

| Reply

I am SERIOUSLY I M P R E S S E D ! Wow you’re SO CLEVER, with everything thought out perfectly… even the slope on the coop and guttering!!! Now you’ll have to get that lethal looking lichen off the roof… Man, that barrel looked scary with you half inside it – reminds me of a certain episode with a wheelie bin at Albany 🙂


Thanks Mum! Slowly learning 🙂 Haha, yes, I’d rather not relive that claustrophobic wheelie bin incident.

George Shears
| Reply

Nick, your creative ingenuity, exquisite step-by-step photographic documentation, and your impeccable workmanship are truly joys to behold! Bravo for an astounding performance in this new venue.

In preparing for chickens, you’re definitely striking a highly responsive chord for me. My first pet (starting at age 4, I believe) was a non-conformist, purplish-colored laying hen that was getting slowly pecked to death by other “straight” chickens. Without question, she was literally at the bottom of the “pecking order.” Perhaps in setting a lifelong prototype of rescuing, protecting, and advocating for “under-dogs” of all stripes, I happily agreed to help save her life by adopting her from the family that owned her.

My over-arching heroine at that point in my life was “Li’l Orphan Annie,” so I named her, of course, “Annie.” (My one and only story book at that time that I had read to me over and
over was about “Li’l Orphan Annie.”) She became and remained my dearly beloved consort for about the next four years. She reliably laid an egg every day without fail and followed me around like a little puppy. I laid my future foundation as a psychologist by discovering how to “hypnotize” her by placing her on her back, where she would remain, motionless, for varying periods of time up to about 2 minutes or so. She would then right herself, appearing to be a bit dazed. In her unconditional loving kindness, however, she never seemed to hold it against me.

After some neighbor kids played too roughly with her when I was–I believe–eight years old, she took sick and quickly went downhill. After a day or so, as I was sitting on our back step watching her with much worried concern, she laboriously dragged herself slowly across our backyard until she had gotten as close to me as possible. Very soon after expressing this final act of devotion, she expired at my feet. As you might imagine, I was utterly heart-broken.

We had a number of other chickens, nearly all of whom became my pets as well, but Annie was definitely my first love. I had names for all of them and, since I lived in a very isolated rural setting where there were very few other kids, they became some of my main “playmates.” I recall a number of personal dramas in which they played important roles in those early formative years.

One of these was quite traumatic, occurring when I was in the first grade. As I recall, my mother had gone to a funeral, leaving me home with my older brother and sister to take care of me. Upon returning home from school one day, I learned that they had prepared a chicken dinner. Only after partaking of it did I learn in horror that it was one of my dear fowl friends. I suspect that I have never fully forgiven my brother and sister for what I then regarded as an outright atrocity–but which they didn’t even seem to regard as “fowl play” 🙂

In my early teenage years, we raised hundreds of chickens, both laying hens and summer “fryers.” One of my regular chores was to help care for them and collect the abundant eggs they laid daily. In cleaning and preparing these eggs to ship to Duluth, the closest small city, I sometimes amused myself by printing clever messages on them with a ball point pen that I hoped would be day brighteners for the customers who ended up buying them. In retrospect, however, I suspect that some of these messages, which indicated that the eggs had been laid several months earlier, may have elicited consternation, doubt, or even outrage.

So, with this personal history, I will greatly enjoy learning of your ongoing chicken adventures, Nick and Char. I hope that they will be as enriching as they were for me. At the very least, I’m sure that you will be nutritionally enriched by the wonderful fresh (and, I imagine, organic) eggs that will amply repay your labors of love.

With warm best wishes,
Your rustic friend from across the waves


Thanks so much for your kind words, George. It’s always such a pleasure to read the nostalgic stories of your early years in a similar rural haven, and I’m glad my posts trigger those memories for you. I love the story of Annie the chicken; I’m not surprised at all to learn of your instinct to nurture her and nurse her when you were a child, in contrast to the careless nature of those children who caused her saddening demise. That’s very amusing that you wrote messages on the eggs – what a fanciful idea. I think I might do the same, in your honour, whenever I give eggs away 🙂

Leave a comment