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Chicken Coop Watering System - How To

Monday, March 21, 2016
My previous post was about building a "hen house" and this post will give you enough details on how to make a gravity fed watering system using watering cups.  I can't take credit for coming up with this system because I was inspired by "Homesteadonomics" to give it a try.  A huge bonus for me was that I already had a barrel!

This is what my system looks like.

The biggest difference from what I did was adding a PVC 'tee' to my watering cups outside so I could route one to the inside of the coop.  I worried about this being permanently attached on either side of the wall because I was originally going to make it so I had PVC fittings that screwed the 2 sides together so I could undo it if needed but I went with the more permanent solution in the end and am very pleased.  I also considered splitting the rubber tubing with a 'barbed tee' and having 2 hoses, one for outside and one for inside but that would add more tubing to worry about.

I'm making this post because I spent nearly 2-3 hours over several trips to Home Depot in the plumbing section, being completely overwhelmed with 2 kids in the cart and a gazillion options for creating different outfittings.  Hopefully this post saves you from wandering up/down the isle like I did (I wasn't able to find the same parts as Homesteadonomics).

To start I'll say that I spent $75 total for this system (not including the water barrel).  Is it worth it?  YES!  Our hen's are about 10 weeks old and changing/cleaning their water dish has been the worst daily chore for me.  No amount of elevating the dish kept it from getting pine shavings and poop in it.  I tried the nipple waterers only to be frustrated.  They leaked or dripped when the chickens pecked at them and got the pine shavings wet which would STINK!

So, watering cups - AMAZING!  The hens got used to them right away and I could see it was easier for them to get water than from the nipples.  They're easy to install and I like that they can be attached to a horizontal surface, unlike the nipples that need to be attached to the bottom of a container.

Water Barrel
-Everything else I got from Home Depot-
3/4" Pipe Strap (x4) and Screws
Rubber Sheet (making custom gasket)
Teflon Tape
PVC Primer & Glue
Step Drill Bit (recommended) (~3/4"to fit brass adapter in barrel)
Forstner Bit (fitting PVC through wood) (1-1/8")

My first concern was finding fittings that would be leak proof for my barrel.  They have large-ugly PVC ones specifically for rain barrels but I didn't want that - plus I'd need a lot of different adapters just to hook up my hose... so I rigged up my own with brass fittings. 

  You'll want to drill a hole just big enough to screw your brass adapter piece in from the inside.  Snug is better than loose. I really liked having a step drill bit for this because I could test the fit as I went.

 Because the brass adapter has longer threads than what the ball valve will accommodate I knew I would need to "fill in the gap" which was great because I could add gaskets as an extra barrier from the water leaking out.

I used the rubber sheet to customize 2 gaskets that would fit over the threads of the adapter (one will go inside the barrel and one on the outside).  I used my step drill bit for making the inside hole of the gaskets (putting the rubber matt over wood to stabilize it). 

I left the inside gasket square because you wouldn't see it but shaped the one on the outside so it was the same shape as the base of the ball valve.

You can't see the gasket here because I caulked around it already.  I also used teflon tape around the adapter threads before screwing everything together (it was dark and I couldn't take pictures, sorry)!

As a side note, I originally purchased this valve for the barrel but the base against the barrel was so narrow I didn't feel comfortable with it, plus the threads inside the barrel weren't long enough to put a gasket in between. 

Now you can attach your brass hose adapter to your ball valve, and put a steel clamp over your hose and attach securely.

Now time to work on the PVC fittings!
 You'll want to design and customize your PVC sections with what works best for your coop.  Dry fit as you go to make sure it's what you really want before gluing.  You can see on the right sides of my sections are the threaded caps with the threaded male adapters and on the very left of the large section is the female reducing adapter which fits the gray irrigation elbow (not pictured)... everything in between should be easy to see.  I was really careful to make sure the small section of PVC between the tee and elbow was the correct size to fit through my coop wall.

 I just HAD to paint my PVC because I really can't stand the way it looks.  I've read it's nearly impossible to get anything to stick to PVC but that wasn't going to stop me!  I filled the holes with cotton balls and taped the PVC section I still needed to glue then I rubbed acetone thoroughly over all surfaces (it dulled the finish) and then sprayed with an epoxy I had in the garage.  If you're wondering how my PVC is floating in the air, I screwed fishing string into the caps!

 The white epoxy was supposed to cure for about 9 hours but I was too impatient and sprayed it black while it was still tacky.

 It was fun to see this crinkle affect in just a few seconds!

I sprayed a few more coats of black and pulled out the cotton balls to add the watering cups.  Use teflon tape on all the threads of your PVC sections or it WILL leak.

 I used my forstner bit to make a hole in the coop.

 I screwed my small section onto the inside of my coop with the metal straps so that I could glue my other section without needing someone holding it from the inside for me.  Yes, I know I did a sloppy glueing job (I was nervous and there were chickens all around me pecking at my shoe laces)!

Attach your metal straps!

Now you can attach the other end of your house and you'll be up and running in no time!  Add your metal clamp BEFORE you push the hose on.

 I added a metal strap to hold the barrel to the wall just to be safe.  I used metal eye-bolts and the same galvanized wire I used for the hen door.

You'll want the bottom of your barrel above the height of your watering cups - if it's not high enough it won't work.

Did that help you?  I'd love to know!

Other Chicken Project Links:

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Chicken Coop Project Build

Other Chicken Project Links:

Have ducks?

The purpose of this post is to hopefully help others who are in the process of building a "hen house" because it's a lot to take on and so many things to consider.   I researched more than I care to admit about every little thing our chickens would need to be happy.  Some important aspects that shaped my overall design is that I wanted the coop to sit on the ground (for the 'deep litter' method), I didn't want them "cooped up" in a small area and I wanted to create a space that was as natural as I could provide (not perfectly sterile, give them access to dig, fly, run, forage for their own food, etc).  I also created the coop a little bigger than necessary for our 7 birds to accommodate a few more if we wanted.  Upon my initial research I was a bit envious of the elaborate coops I was seeing but shocked at what people were spending.  I finally looked up what the natural habitat of a chicken is and was happy to see that they're forest birds!  That was perfect because I happen to have a forest in my backyard!  That steered me away from doing a lot of things other people are doing with their chickens.

Here's what our finished coop looks like:

The water barrel holds enough water to last over a month.  The watering cups are my favorite!  See how I made it here.

The shiny metal is too modern looking to me - I plan on aging it in the future (when I recover).

I didn't want my egg boxes to stick out of the structure for different reasons and I added 2 latches on each side to prevent raccoons finding their way inside.

The egg door is easy enough for my 4-year-old to open and with the weight of the door it latches once it's down so I don't need to worry about them forgetting and predators getting in.

 I really wanted windows to give the chickens as much natural light as possible and because it adds character.

I also knew the windows would be an easy way to give them ventilation by propping them open.

 There's also natural ventilation with the gaps I left around the windows and I left up to 1" gaps between the walls and the roof rafters.

I took advantage of all the branches we have and made a perch for the boxes and a roost.

We have endless amounts of leaves and pine needles to fill the nesting boxes.

 The hen door opens easily from outside with the assistance of a few pulleys.

 For the guillotine door I simply cut a channel in 2x2's for the door to slide up/down.  I have a watering cup on the inside (hooked up to the 2 from the outside).

The hen door is secured up on a hook and my boys can operate it easily.

Before we get into details, here are the girls!
 Our little chicks are about 1 week old here.  We kept them in the living room for the first few weeks.

 I would take them outside on warm days and they'd just want to stay on my lap!

Once they got too stinky for the house we moved them into the garage.

One of the first big purchases we made was a new 300-foot long deer fence off Craigslist.  It's 4-feet high and we'll be able to move it around as we prefer pretty easily to create different "paddocks".  I used it to make them a small area to play in while their coop was being built.  They were happy to spread their wings!

OK - Here's the Coop Build!
I knew I didn't want to spend a bunch of money so I found as many free materials as I could find on Craigslist and was able to round up pallets, plywood and decking material.  I also bought 4 windows for $10 each.

 Pulling out the nails of the decking material was a LOT of work but it was worth the effort!  I used my Kreg rip cutting jig for my saw to cut 2" sections for framing my walls.  I knew 2x4's for the whole structure was a bit overkill and didn't want to spend any extra money.

I found someone getting rid of about 12 1x4's that were 12-feet long!  These were a pain in the neck because they had a lot of long staples that I had to pull out - again, worth it!

My coop has a 4x5' footprint so I dug a hole for my foundation which I made out of 2x6's and topped off with 1x4's (you'll later see I pulled up the foundation because of water problems).

 I designed and built my 4 walls, roof and roosting boxes separately so they would fit together like a puzzle and I could do everything by myself.  I created these images in SketchUp after I had everything built to better show how I did it.

 Each section is it's own color.  Notice how the walls overlap in the corners making it easy to put screws from the short-sided walls into the longer walls in the corner.  The main structure is built out of 2x4's I purchased, the 2" sections I ripped from the decking as well as the 1x4's with staples.

The 3 shorter walls are about 4'9" tall and the tallest wall with the door is about 5'9".

My first wall!  It's 4'-wide exactly and I basically set the window inside and added all the inside framing around it.

 Second wall!  I did the same thing as the first wall; designing and building as I go around the window.  After I got it together I decided I wanted the window lower and added another piece.

Making the frame of the door was easier with it laying down.  Notice the notches on the side to insert the shorter wall.

 Here's how the corner of the walls looked once I got them screwed together.  I used long lag bolts.

The roof is made of 1x4's that I cut to 5' lengths and figured out where I needed to cut notches by holding it against my walls.  I spaced them out with 2x2's and later added a 2x4 on each end so the roof would have more dimension and hang over.  The orange-colored 2x4 fills in the gap between the tall and shorter walls.

 I had to push the structure off the foundation to attach the back window (there was a tree in the way).

 I built the roof on the ground so I could clamp it together easier.

 It was very easy to carry the roof over and slide it right into place.

 Showing the back corner of the roof over the walls.

Now it was time to start filling in all the open spaces!  I didn't like the idea of attaching plywood to the outside, especially particle board, because I loved seeing the different wood pieces of the structure.

 I started by attaching 1x4's around the hen door.

To make a little overhang I used scrap 2x4's and cut them down until they looked right.  This overhang was mostly to keep debris out of the watering cups and rain from getting inside the hen door, but it also adds dimension & cuteness. :)

I pre-drilled long screws to make them easier to attach without clamps.

After a few days progress was finally made!  I added metal strapping to the inside/outside to attach roof more securely.  I added plywood to the inside of the back wall and used my Kreg pocket hole jig to attach plywood in recessed parts of other areas (trying to preserve the character by seeing the framing).

CAUTION!  If you are on a slope and have heavy rains like us do not do your foundation like this!  You can see how I put gravel around the perimeter filling in the space between the foundation and the dirt.  My thinking was that it would keep wet soil off my boards and preserve them longer (the soil is pretty damp).  WELLL... I didn't think about how the gravel was creating a perfect drain for the water to go straight into the foundation off our sloped yard.  After a heavy rain there was 2-INCHES of water INSIDE the coop!!  I had a very hard time because it was after I had the coop almost completed and felt like I was taking major steps backwards.  Thankfully I didn't attach the coop to the foundation yet and I could slide it off onto boards while I figured out a new plan.  My husband ended up leveling the foundation on the ground (meaning the back end is about 3" into the ground and the front end is on top of the ground) and we filled it almost entirely with gravel.  Now water can't penetrate upwards and the chickens will stay dry (yay for dry chickens)!

 I simply nailed 1x4's across the entire back wall.  Most of these were in the discounted section and were very crooked and I had to clamp each one down as I hammered them in.  At this point all the walls were closed and we moved the chickens in even though I wasn't completely finished.  During the day they were out in the yard while I worked.

For the nesting boxes I used 2x2's to create a frame (base), then I nailed a 1x4 to the front and other 1x4's to the sides that extended passed the front to hold a perch.  For the sides I used a scrap 1x12 board and cut a diagonal and screwed that over the sides.  To attach it to the coop I screwed the 2x2 base frame to the coop wall and used pocket holes to attach the tall diagonal walls.

I made 2x2 braces for supports.

I nailed 1x4's to the diagonal sides for the roof/overhang.

I wasn't being very patient and HAD to get the watering system up and running because I was so sick of cleaning out their water dish and filling it up everyday.  It's gravity fed so I built a sturdy stool to keep it elevated.

 You may have noticed the unsightly white caulking everywhere.  I envisioned it being more stream-lined and clean looking, adding to the white of the windows.  WELL.. I didn't realize how exterior wood trim caulking is very tacky, sticky and hard to work with.  Because I designed the walls in an unconventional way with a lot of recessed areas I needed to make sure it was protected from water.  

I decided on Flood brand stain to protect the wood.  It was so easy to apply - I was actually pretty sloppy with it and it turned out pretty nice :)

The metal work was one of the last things to do.  I had neither of these tools when I started this project and am so glad to have both in my arsenal!

 I started by nailing a long piece of flashing to the back edge of the roof, cutting at each end where I could bend it at the corner.  I did the same thing with a second piece of flashing for the front end.

 We used 2 sheets of 10-foot corrugated metal (cut into lengths we needed) and used special screws with rubber gaskets to keep water out.  I also used special metal caulking to fill all the joints.

I anchored the water tank to the wall as a precaution with some eye-bolts and galvanized wire.

 If you don't have a crimper tool, a rock and sledge hammer will do the trick :)

I made this gate as an afterthought to make getting in/out of the deer fence easier than how we originally had it.  I used scrap 2x2's and 1x4's and it was up in a few hours!  It zip-ties against a tree and I made the sides of the frame extend 4" passed the bottom so I could cut points into them and essentially stake the gate frame into the ground.  We keep the extra roll of fencing on one side and I wrapped the other loose end around a wood trim piece a few times and bolted into several places on the gate frame.

I'm sure you're wondering how long this took me and how much it cost?  I was surprised to discover that it took me ONE WHOLE MONTH to complete from start to finish!  As a stay-at-home mom I did most of the work when baby was napping (2-3 hour periods) and minutes here and there when the kids were happy outside.  My favorite times were Saturday's when my husband could be with the kids!

COST?  Here's a pretty good estimate:

Lumber : $130
Windows: $40
Roofing/Flashing: $55
Hardware Cloth: $50 (enough to make a run)
Screws/Nails: $30
Pulleys, Wire Clamps, Bolts: $20
Door/Window Latches, Handle Pulls, Hinges: $35
Stain/Caulking $30
10 bags of gravel $40
TOTAL = $430!

Watering System: $75
Deer Fence $150

One thing is certain - we paid more than expected for this project and that's even with all the free lumber I gathered!  It was more work than I imagined and I probably did a lot of things wrong and/or complicated them more than they needed to be, however, I learned a lot and it's so nice to see the girlies out enjoying their new home!

 Silver and Blue Laced Wyhondotte's

 Rhode Island Reds

 Golden Laced Wyhondotte's and Light Brahma

 The trees give the birds extra protection from flying predators (hawks) and they love digging in the dirt and laying in the leaves.  

I'm so glad this project is over (sigh)!

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