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What You Should Know About Poultry Waterers & Feeders

There are a variety of poultry waterers and feeders available, so read on to learn which ones might be right for you and your birds.

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by Lesa WilkeJune 9, 2021
PHOTO: Nick Beer/Shutterstock

Chicken-keeping can be fun and easy if you have the right equipment. But choosing the perfect products is essential to enjoying your poultry, especially when dealing with everyday items, such as feeders and waterers. When selecting them, it’s important to pick models with convenient features appropriate for your chickens and location. Other factors to consider include types of poultry waterers or feeders, construction material and cost.

Any equipment you acquire should have a minimum capacity of feeding and watering your flock for an entire day. Poultry feeders or waterers should also: 

  • keep the water and food clean and free of droppings
  • not leak, drip or clog
  • be easy to clean and refill

Although larger capacity feeders and waterers cost more, the benefits of not needing to maintain them daily are enormous. So, keep in mind that flocks tend to grow, and consider purchasing higher capacity models. 

Capacity Requirements

Chickens are made up of about 50 percent water, and eggs are about 65 to 75 percent, so a continuous supply of fresh, clean water is critical to chicken health. Depending on your birds’ size, they’ll drink one to two cups of water per day and can drink double that during hot weather. 

That means that a 5-gallon poultry waterer might provide water for 10 average-size chickens for about four days.

2 cups x 10 chickens x 4 days = 80; 80/16 cups per gallon = 5 gallons

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If you are located in a region with cold winters, the best poultry waterers are those that automatically prevent freezing. If you are located in a warmer climate, heated waterers aren’t necessary, but your chickens may drink double the amount that chickens in cooler conditions do. 

An average-size chicken eats about 4 ounces of feed per day. So the example of a 10-bird flock would need a minimum of 2½ pounds of food per day. A feeder with 10-pound capacity would last them about four days.

4 ounces x 10 chickens = 40 ounces; 40 ounces/16 ounces per pound = 2½ pounds; 2½ pounds x 4 days = 10 pounds per day 

Obviously, chicks or bantams require less food and water, while larger birds use more. And flocks with more than 10 birds should have multiple poultry waterers and feeders so all the chickens have easy access. Size your equipment for the number and size of your chickens as well as your desired refilling frequency. 

chickens chicken feeder feeders waterer waterers poultry
Lesa Wilkes

Construction Material

Poultry feeders and waterers are typically made of either plastic or galvanized steel. 

Plastic

Plastic models generally cost less and are easier to clean but can crack if dropped or exposed frequently to freezing conditions. 

Metal

Metal models are sturdier, last for many years and don’t crack like plastic. However, they’re also heavier to clean and refill. 

Galvanized

Galvanized waterers shouldn’t be used if you intend to put apple cider vinegar in your chickens’ water. (The acidic vinegar may cause toxic residue to leach into the water.) 


Read more: These tips will help you hang a poultry waterer off the ground.


Waterer Type 

Chicken waterers come in three basic varieties. The simplest are just buckets, bowls or water troughs. But, because chickens tend to roost on these and put their droppings in the water, none of them made this list of recommended waterers.

The other two types of poultry waterers are those with a gravity-fed, self-contained reservoir and those that automatically refill. 

Chickens don’t drink water at night when they’re roosting, so it’s not essential that waterers be placed in the coop. However, they do need water right away in the morning when they wake. Remember to place or hang waterers at a height that is convenient for your chickens. 

Gravity Fed

Mason Jar

These are simply mason jars screwed onto a metal or plastic base and are great waterers for chicks, as tiny chicks can drown in waterers intended for adults. However, they shouldn’t be used for mature chickens because they don’t hold enough water and can easily tip over.

chickens chicken feeder feeders waterer waterers poultry
Lesa Wilke

The Little Giant Baby Chick Base Metal Waterer is inexpensive, low maintenance, constructed from heavy-gauge galvanized steel and durable. 

Plastic

These are generally affordable, easy to clean and refill, and come in many sizes. They can be hung or set on the ground and allow you to see the water level. Multiple chickens can drink from the basin created between the base rim and the water reservoir above.

The Harris Farms Hanging Poultry Drinker, 5 Quart or 3.5 Gallon, is a reasonably priced model that also has a domed shape to prevent chickens from roosting. 

Galvanized Steel

These operate and come in sizes similar to plastic poultry waterers, but they’re heavier and you can’t see the water level inside. They tend to be a bit more expensive but last longer and are rust-resistant.

Because they’re heavier than the plastic models, they’re more difficult to knock over if you’re setting them out rather than hanging them. The Harris Farms Double Wall Poultry Drinker, 2 Gallon or 5 Gallon, is made of heavy-gauge galvanized steel. 

Heated

If you live in an area that has freezing weather, a heated waterer is highly recommended. However, they do require electricity.

The Farm Innovators Model HPF-100 “All-Seasons” Heated Plastic Poultry Fountain, 3 Gallon, 100-Watt is ideal for year-round use because it’s thermostatically controlled to operate only when necessary.

Another option for creating a heated waterer is to set a metal poultry waterer on a heated base. The Farm Innovators Model HP-125 Heated Base For Metal Poultry Waterers, 125-Watt is a heated base that is thermostatically controlled to operate only when temperatures fall below 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Automatic 

Nipple

These are plastic buckets fit with nipples along the bottom that the chickens drink from. They’re usually easy to refill, you can see the water level and they keep the water cleaner than a plastic or steel poultry waterer. They also tend to keep the coop drier if using them inside.

Nipple waterers can be more difficult to clean, and there is a learning curve for the chickens to adjust to them. The RentACoop 5 Gallon Poultry Nipple Waterer is constructed of 100 percent food-grade and BPA-free plastic. It has four nipples to accommodate four birds at a time and comes in either a center- or corner-placement configuration.

Its cone lid prevents chickens from roosting. 

Drinker Cup

These automatically fill small cups from a bucket reservoir above. The water entering the cups is typically very clean because the reservoir is sealed. However, the cups do tend to collect dirt and can be difficult to clean.

The RentACoop 5 Gallon/4 Automatic Water Cup Chicken Waterer accommodates four birds at a time. It comes in center- or corner-placement configuration and has a cone lid to prevent chickens from roosting. 

Hose Attached

The Auto Poultry Waterer with Cover from Stromberg’s Chicks & Game Birds includes a 3⁄4-inch hose that attaches to a standard garden hose for a continuous flow of fresh water for your poultry.

Automatic float controls the water level so there is no spilling or overflow. An oversized cover extends beyond the edge of the bowl to prevent roosting and keep debris out of the water.

Feeder Types

Poultry feeders come in two basic varieties—free standing or hanging. When selecting feeders, choose models that are rodentproof and prevent chickens from wasting feed (by billing or scratching it out).

When hanging feeders, hang them at a height convenient for your chickens (about chicken back-height). 

Free-Standing

Mason Jar

Like mason jar poultry waterers, these feeders are created by screwing a mason jar into a metal or plastic base. They are only intended for chicks because they don’t hold enough food for adults, and mature birds tip them over easily.

The Little Giant Baby Chick Base Metal Feeder is made of galvanized steel. 

Treadle

These feeders are designed so that the birds must stand on the treadle to open the food trough. That makes it nearly impossible for the chickens to waste feed, and they’re generally weather- and rodentproof. However, they cost more than other feeder types and aren’t suitable for chicks. 

The RentACoop Treadle Feeder 40 LBS is a secure, high-capacity, galvanized feeder. The treadle can be adjusted to accommodate lighter or heavier breeds, and feeder extensions can be purchased to expand the capacity up to 70 pounds.

This feeder works well for larger flocks.


Read more: Check out this DIY vending machine feeder for chicken treats!


Hanging 

Port Style

This style forces birds to reach into the feeder to get food thereby minimizing waste. The covered design allows for inside or outside use. The RentACoop 2 Port Chicken Feeder is made of food-grade and BPA-free plastic and comes fully assembled and in center- or corner-placement configurations.

A cone cap prevents chickens from roosting, holds 20 pounds of food, can accommodate four to six chickens at a time and is generally rodentproof. It’s only for chickens older than 12 weeks as younger birds could become trapped inside.

chickens chicken feeder feeders waterer waterers poultry
Lesa Wilke
Plastic Feeders

Plastic hanging feeders cost less and are easy to use. The Harris Farms 1000297 Free Range Hanging Poultry Feeder is a basic feeder that is easy to assemble, clean and fill. It should be used indoors since it’s open on the top. It has a 7-pound capacity and has spokes at the base to prevent chickens from billing out the food. The transparent plastic makes it easy to monitor how full the feeder is. 

Stromberg’s Chicks & Game Birds’ Feed Saving Plastic Hanging Feeder is a medium-sized hanging feeder with a built-in, feed-saving grill and trough lip. The grill helps prevent feed waste by reducing the back-and-forth head action that birds use to sweep feed out of feeders. The cylinder has a capacity of up to 20 pounds.

Galvanized Steel Feeders

These are similar to plastic hanging feeders but are made from galvanized steel, making them heavier and sturdier. The Harris Farms 1000293 Galvanized Hanging Poultry Feeder has three adjustments to accommodate different size birds. Its capacity is 15 pounds.

The waterers and feeders described in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. Shop around before you decide. Consider variables such as capacity, cost and desired convenience level to identify the models perfect for keeping you and your flock healthy and happy. 



Sidebar: Homemade Suet Cakes 

It’s easy to make homemade suet cakes, and your flock will love them. You can make these whenever you have leftover grease (from cooked meat such as hamburger, steak or pork) that you would normally throw out. Ingredient proportions vary depending on how much grease you have on hand. 

Ingredients

  • unsalted nuts (peanuts are particularly good), sunflower seeds, cracked corn, raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit (You can also start with high-quality wild-bird food containing these)
  • grease (It’s best to avoid grease from bacon containing nitrites or nitrates)

Preparation

Chop the nuts and put them in a small freezer-safe container. (I use plastic freezer storage containers.) Add the sunflower seed, cracked corn and dried fruit.

Add the slightly cooled grease (if your grease is already solidified, just microwave for a few seconds), and stir to blend the mixture. After mixing, store the suet in the freezer. 

You can add additional layers of suet as time goes on until you are ready to feed the chickens. When ready to serve, remove the suet cake from the container and place it in a metal suet feeder in the chicken coop.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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